March 21st, 2010
05:02 PM ET
12 years ago

House Republicans denounce racial slurs hurled at Democrats

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="On CNN's State of the Union, Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana, called the slur directed at Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, 'contemptible.' 'I denounce it in the strongest terms,' Pence said."]
Washington (CNN) - House Republican leaders criticized the use of slurs against Democratic congressmen by protesters on Capitol Hill Saturday, but they called them isolated incidents that shouldn't overshadow the debate over health care.

Three Democratic African-American lawmakers - including civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis of Georgia - said demonstrators against the health care bill yelled racist epithets at them as they walked past. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri said a protester spit at him. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, an openly gay Democrat, said protesters yelled anti-gay comments at him.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, called the incidents "reprehensible" but said on NBC's Meet the Press "let's not let a few isolated incidents get in the way of the fact that millions of Americans are scared to
death, and millions of Americans want no part of this growing size of government."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, appearing on NBC, said, "I think the tone of the this entire debate has been denigrated, has been brought down, frankly, by the rhetoric on government takeover, socialism, things that are not accurate."

"Nobody condones that at all," said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R- Virginia. on ABC's "This Week." "There were 30,000 people here in Washington yesterday. And, yes, there were some very awful things said."

Cantor appeared with House Democratic Caucus chairman John Larson, D-Connecticut, who said the incidents show "everybody ought to ratchet back just a little bit."

Asked about Larson's comment, Cantor said "you know what it is time for? It's time to listen to the American people, and that is the stunning thing about this."

On CNN's "State of the Union," Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana, called the slurs "contemptible," saying, "I denounce it in the strongest terms."

Andrew Langer, the president of one of the groups that sponsored Saturday's protest, issued a statement Sunday condemning the incidents. "The Institute for Liberty roundly condemns the isolated incidents of intolerance that occurred … As a core value, the Tea Party movement believes in the precept upon which our independence was declared and this nation was founded: that all men are created equal."

As demonstrators gathered outside the Capitol Sunday to rally against the bill, one held a sign saying, "All tea partiers: If you hear a racial slur, step away, point, boo and take a picture of the rat bastard."

"I haven't seen or heard anything like this in more than 40 years, maybe 45," the 70-year-old Lewis said. "Since the march from Selma to Montgomery really."

"Yeah, but it's OK," Lewis said. "I've faced this before. So, it reminded me of the '60s. There's a lot of downright hate and anger. and people are just being downright mean."

Cleaver released a statement late Saturday saying he, too, was the target of the "n" word as he walked to the Capitol for a vote and that he was spat on by one protester who was arrested by U.S. Capitol Police. Cleaver declined to press charges against the man, the statement said.

"I'm disappointed," Frank said. "There's an unwillingness to be civil."

Frank, who said he rarely hears such slurs anymore, said the health care issue has become "the proxy for a lot of other sentiments. A lot of which are perfectly reasonable but some of which are kind of ugly. ... People out here today on the whole were, many of them, were hateful and abusive."

Updated: 3:15 p.m.

–CNN Radio's Lisa Desjardins contributed to this report.

Filed under: GOP • House • John Lewis • Popular Posts
soundoff (300 Responses)
  1. doug

    Change is here! Accept it! live with it!

    March 21, 2010 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  2. Tom

    rebublicans dont want heathcare for all the insurance company;s have spent 200 million to try to kill this bill just like the rebublicans hmmm i guess not only are the paty of no they are cohoots with scum insurance

    March 21, 2010 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  3. Carol

    The Republicans actions and words are disgusting, forwards I've received from friends of many years have been deleted in our home for months. You can be conservative without joining the scum of the earth. It's a shame that this party will be known for dirt for many years to come.

    March 21, 2010 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  4. BillG

    People that choose hatred will become victims of their own hatred now and in the future. Master Po

    March 21, 2010 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  5. Joeny Bui

    Everyone is scared because you are telling everyone that this will break our government. The only thing that is breaking our government is not voting on anything. Get rid of the fillibuster and just require a 60/40 vote.

    March 21, 2010 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  6. middleageinva


    Could those Congressman walk outiside yesterday to the House offices WITHOUT PRESS FOLLOWING THEM EVERYWHERE? Absolutely not. However, some of these "incidences" are not even verifiable. How convenient. Pelosi went everywhere with throngs of reporters following and pressing in on them and constituents waiting in line to see their Congressman.
    Why do I say this? Because it didn't happen? No, I wasn't everywhere, but I can tell you I was THERE yesterday and there were reporters and throngs of people following everyone. Why isn't this on tape, or on video?

    Didn't happen. HEresay and pretty low in my opinion. I was there. NO ONE COULD HAVE GOTTEN AWAY WITH ANYTHING LIKE THIS with a representative to Congress because they didn't walk around outside unprotected and EVERYONE, including Clyburn, were followed by nosy press and cameras about up-dates to votes! NEVER HAPPENED IN MY OPINION.

    March 21, 2010 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  7. NSR

    Every time somebody turns around John Lewis is complaining about being called something racist. This is nothing new.

    It's appalling that Congress wants to complain about people being uncivil when they propose so much anti-citizen legislation. Hard to see arrogance like that anymore.

    March 21, 2010 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  8. william

    Why don't these republican leaders denounce those shouting hatred and racial slurs and carrying similar signs directly to their faces as they stand up to address the mobs? The answer is simple. They are cowards all and the type of representatives that the wingnuts and FOX news love to sponsor. If I am wrong they will denounce these actions while out in front of the crowds as it is happening. Wishful thinking but it won't happen.

    March 21, 2010 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  9. Limnologym

    Jake's comment below is spot on. Unfortunately, any thoughtful efforts to achieve true compromise will be considered unacceptable by today's GOP. Their new obstructionist mantra is "Either Do It My Way, or No Way at All!"

    Jake March 21st, 2010 12:12 pm ET
    It would be less alarming if it was just some isolated incidents. Unfortunately, the "tea party" and other grass roots groups long ago decided that shouting at others instead of sitting down at the table to negotiate a compromise was the best course of action.

    Too bad your voice was not heard at the table. You've had your chance. You wasted it. Democracy is *not* a bunch of like minded people agreeing. It consists of those with many different views coming together to discuss their differences and agreeing to compromise.

    March 21, 2010 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  10. Simple Words

    A lie can travel around the world before the truth has got its boots on. Mark Twain

    March 21, 2010 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  11. Ken Gallaher

    The GOP is the party of the white, redneck, male, old, racist south. If they denounced the racism there would be nothing left.

    March 21, 2010 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  12. Pablo

    Typical Republican tactics, they're behind this but will deny it to the end.

    March 21, 2010 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  13. frank

    When I was in the military we never cared about party. Now these clowns shove it in your face and don't have a debate. This is not the America I grew up with. I blame the Republicans.

    I love it when they hate the media its all leftist, but they get all their news from Fox and Rush. Or Beck. They may be propaganda stooges, but they are all media. Lousy ones, college dropouts for the most part. Which is what the GOP seems to select to push their inane campaigns.

    I'm astounded how they get these people to vote against their needs to fight health care. Or any other GOP lie, from no new taxes which shifted all the wealth to Wall Street. No jobs? Blame NAFTA and the globalism of the free market and we don't want regulation.

    These people are fools. Interesting how many GOP leaders seem to have plastic surgery. Pod people??

    March 21, 2010 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  14. Welcome to Rome

    Pense is lying through his neocon teeth again.It was probably his sister,Grover Norquist that did it.

    March 21, 2010 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  15. Kadie Chandler

    Here's what gets me. A 16 year old who gets on a PA system and says "all black customers" have to leave the store gets arrested for bias intimidation and harrassment yet the people who were in our nations capital that threw out the n word towards black democrats, threw out the f word at gay democrats and SPIT on several of them got NOTHING! Is this the impression we give? That our elected officials are less important than a few Walmart customers? Freedom of speech has gone too far in this country when people are allowed to throw out racial slurs and spit on elected officials. The fact that none of these people were arrested, or at the very least hauled off the property kicking and screaming like the animals they are, shows exactly how useless security there is. The Republicans can say what they want, the fact that they are belittling this incident speaks volumes about their character.

    March 21, 2010 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  16. JB Sullivan

    The Catholic nuns fought for civil rights in the 1960's and the Catholic Nuns fight for health care reform in 2010. Over that 50 years their morality has stood the test of time. The health care debate is about morality, or in the case of Republicans, and the Catholic Bishops, the lack of it!

    March 21, 2010 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  17. Bill S.

    This is a typical desperation grab by GOP supporters. Their party is in complete and total disarray and the premise of HIDING behind the guise of the "Tea Party Movement" which is a Ron Paul concept, is fooling no one but themselves.
    Their party had 6 years of complete government domination (2000-2006) and they did nothing but spend money on a war that helped no one including the Iraqi people. Meanwhile, our economy went into the tank and the aftermath is now Obama's problem despite the fact it was created by the GOP!
    Faux News "We report, you listen"!

    March 21, 2010 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |

    it is sad that the democratic party has slid this far down the slime trail that they would plant people at a demonstration to yell racial slurs and then try to pin it on republicans like that they are notorious for that slime tactic

    March 21, 2010 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  19. Sue, Vienna, VA

    Actually, it's time for republicans to stop with their inaccuracies and outright lies! They spend the majority of their waking hours fanning the flames of hate and division.

    March 21, 2010 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  20. republican and proud

    Republicans are being stereotyped on here.

    Labeling a party because of a few people is just as
    prejudiced and hypocritical.

    I'm a republican.
    I'm definitely not a racist.
    I don't think govt. control is the answer.

    And, the sad part is, the american public doesn't know
    how or what this bill will bring.

    Good or Bad....its another 1000 pages of documents that congress hasn't read either.

    March 21, 2010 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  21. Bette

    Who are the Republicans trying to fool? They are fostering racial hatred and division in this country by cozying up to the radical, extremist conservatives now running their party. I'm a registered Republican ashamed to even admit I'm a registered Republican. The only reason I haven't changed my party affiliation is so that I can vote against Sarah Palin if she's in the primaries.

    March 21, 2010 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  22. Guest

    Racial and Gay slurs? I think these have been played up nicely by cowardly politicians afraid of what their constituants are thinking, and more importantly, going to do after they vote! That's it, hide behind the "poor me, I'm a victim" shield! November is going to be sweet.

    March 21, 2010 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  23. sine

    I don't understand what the republicans mean when they say washington isn't listening to what the American people want. Could it be that washington is listening to more than half of america that voted for healthcare reform, voted in 2008, voted in 2006 and WON??

    It all really depends on which 'America" he is talking about....the one that hurls the N word like it's 1960 or us progressive minded people who want to move america forward???

    March 21, 2010 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  24. RDE

    SHAME! SHAME! SHAME! It is so obvious that people are afraid of this bill because of all the prejudice and racist statements. If healthcare fails it will be because of racism and bigotry and let's not forget stereotypes. It's shameful. FEAR! Stop scaring people into making ignorant decisions. GRAND OLE PARTY IS STILL IN PLAY!! SHAMEFUL

    March 21, 2010 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  25. sb

    i hate to say it but a small percent of the republican party is racist

    March 21, 2010 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
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