March 21st, 2010
05:02 PM ET
13 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. john

    Whenever these low lifes (democrats) feel threatened they resort to playing the race card...what we really need in this country is right to vote have to meet one of these criteria to vote. 1. Have a full time job. 2. Own property. 3. Be in the military. If you don't fall into one of these categories you are only a leach on the system or too young to have enough knowledge to make an informed decision anyway...The socialist party never would win an election.

    March 21, 2010 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  2. Steve

    Holocaust deniers, move over! We seem to have a throng of Epithet deniers to send to your club!

    Folks– IT HAPPENED - OK? And we landed on the moon. And Obama was born in HI. And terrorists perpetrated 9/11.

    Pass out the tinfoil hats, its Right Wing Wacko Comspiracy Theorist Time!

    March 21, 2010 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  3. Libertarian

    There was plenty of video taken from this day and these allegations.

    If they are true then why not play the video? Oh that's right, because there are no racial slurs but that would not "fit the narrative"

    March 21, 2010 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  4. Jimmy from New York

    Health care was not a "tough" issue. The American people voted for those represenatives who supported health care for all. What no one counted on was 200 Republicans who abdicated their responsibilities: they refused to entertain the debate, instead forming an inpenetrible block of "NO".

    Now the Dems had to work with a 'dead' half: why have public debate with the dead half?

    As was said when Social Security, WPA, New Deal, Medicare and Civil Rights legislation passed: Thank God for th people's party – thank God for the Democrats.

    March 21, 2010 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  5. Bike Rider

    This is not news. If you have ever known a Republican or Tea Party member then you know that all Rebublicans are racist. It is party of the party rules to be racist, sexist and intolerant.

    March 21, 2010 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  6. aosteve

    All this "in your face" name calling...who is the one really full of hatred? Calling someone names, or saying how evil they are, just because of their political or religious belief? Seems like you are claiming they must be that way because this is the way you are!

    March 21, 2010 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  7. because i'm in spain

    my problem to the "government takeover" comment by the Republican side is are they forgetting that the biggest government takeover came from their side during the Bush administration, it was called the Patriot Act. Apparently they forgot that they took away amendment rights, thats a little more severe than the government trying to help fix health care. The Republicans need to first list of the things they have done that put less government out there. Oh and I forgot how about No Child Left Behind, that is the government meddling in schools, how do they get so mad when they did they same stuff. They are just upset that they lost, and they are in denial of Bush's horrible second term. No wonder Democrats won, duh!!!!

    March 21, 2010 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  8. bill

    There will always be the few that incite and ferment polarization and anger.

    Unfortunately in their struggle to increase their audience (it's a business folks!), the news media sensationalize these stories and grossly distort their significance.

    It's best to just ignore these people and not allow them to ratchet up divisiveness among the vast majority with a more civil nature.

    March 21, 2010 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  9. millerbarber

    Entitlement at it's best .

    Even when you are winning lie

    Come November this entitlement and welfare will be gone.

    Then these entitlement loser will have to get a job.

    Something new for a lot of them

    March 21, 2010 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  10. Bowen747

    The chickens are coming home to roost. Now the rightwingers don't have power anymore they resort to racial hatred and unkind words. No surprise as this is what they do best. LONG LIVE OBAMA'

    March 21, 2010 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  11. Steven Bellmount

    People wake up – the “government” does not run anything – it is the Lobbyist whom salaries are paid by big business and the wealthy that run government – they are the people/group whom put ideas, words and money in the hands of the congressmen and then the Congressmen and Government get blamed for all the bad things that happen. WAKE UP. Lobbyist are the problem here – the Congressmen are just puppets.

    March 21, 2010 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  12. Independent

    Denouncing reprehensible behavior is a good start, but what about taking responsibility for it, Boehner? Remember Boehner incited "a little louder" rhetoric a few days ago? What about an apology?

    March 21, 2010 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  13. Bill

    The racial slurs absolutely do impact health care because it demonstrates the mentality of the people opposed to health care reform.

    March 21, 2010 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  14. Thinking Long Term

    With all the video coverage where is the proof?

    March 21, 2010 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  15. Alex

    I love how people jump to conclusions and label anyone who is protesting as a racist. Anyone who does that is no different than someone shouting racial slurs.

    March 21, 2010 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  16. Ron in Asheville, NC

    I wish they were a "few isolated incidents," but i fear they add up to more than that. Where I live, opposition to ANYTHING the current administration does or even contemplates is cast in racist terms by a significant percentage of people. And it is just blatant. I wish the Republicans and the Tea-Partiers would condemn and reject those acts in no uncertain terms instead of the "wink and nod" that comes with–or at very least can be interpreted to come with–words like "a few isolated incidents."

    March 21, 2010 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  17. Big Country

    If a person is racist it is their right. We implement many racist policies in keeping the amount of white people out of jobs, out of opportunities and out of governemnt based on laws that cater to racial 'equality' at the expense of many innocent whites just to make the whites who already have 'some' seem like good guys.

    March 21, 2010 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  18. queuebert

    Really... these people need to become irrelevant.

    March 21, 2010 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  19. Andy

    The conclusion is inescapable.

    As a middle-aged white male, I'm forced to concede that racial tension has not subsided to the degree I'd thought, back in 2007.

    No other explanation is possible for the Far Right's hideous and ceaseless campaign to topple this administration.

    March 21, 2010 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  20. Tom, St Paul

    GOPers can denounce these people publicly all they want, but they know they are an important part of their base.

    March 21, 2010 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  21. Robert P.

    If Obama was white, would there be so many people against his every move? Obama never had a chance. With racism still so prevalent in our FREE world our society was not ready for an African-American president.

    We believed we had evolved into a respectable society for the most part, a society that believed in our constitution and freedom. However, we have yet to live up to the ideals of one nation under God (or without God as the constitution give us the freedom of religion.)

    We want the rest of the world to have freedom, yet we do not want our own citizens to have freedom if they do not have blond hair and blue eyes. We openly criticize Hitler and the hate he spread, yet many citizens of our great country preach his ideology of hate and a master race. When will we finally become the country we claim to be? A country of freedom and justice for all.

    March 21, 2010 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  22. Steven Bellmount

    Eric Cantor speaks with Forked Tongue! And I used to like this guy.

    I want my party back .

    March 21, 2010 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  23. pete at the beach

    What did the repubbbies think they were letting loose?? By encouraging nasty dialog and showing no respect they created these monsters of hate–and people will be hurt and possibly killed because of this mindless stirring of hate by the "right"

    March 21, 2010 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  24. Josh in LA

    I am a board member for our local tea party. I have been to dozens of events and probably a hundred meetings & have NEVER heard anyone using "racist" comments. Race is never even discussed, hell we have black members marching with us. As usual you libs have no clue as to what you speak and just like to label people b/c you can't understand why everyone is not on board for you big socialist utopia. Please remember that we are against big govt regadless of whether it is Bush or Obama. Most of you are as well but b/c you have your guy in the whitehouse you are now all on board. The bush bailouts is when the Tea Party started and after Katrina why is it you think that big govt is now here to save you? Don't you see we have to help each other and not through govt but, as individuals. Govt is not the answer.

    March 21, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  25. Mark

    Its hard to judge the true position of the republicans because when these incidents were first reported they denied it ever happened. They said there was no proof and that if it did happen it was by democrats "planted" in the crowd. Now we see that the incidents were observed by Capitol Police but the Dems were nice enough to let it go and not have anyone arrested.

    March 21, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
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