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. s.d.

    Republicans are a tad late in their condemnation of these ugly slurs. Where were they last summer when their protesters were carrying offensive signs of the president? When these people say they want their country back, what the mean is, they want a white man back in the White House. Republicans are mean spirited and don’t care about the needs of the American people.

    March 21, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  2. TJ

    Democrats and Republicans are both shams. Clueless Americans squabbling over party politics. Sheep, I say.

    March 21, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  3. bill

    Everyone will agree they are good and bad aspect to this bill. The relative importance you assign to each places you in favor or against it. That's understandable and to be expected.

    The real problem is people forming their opinions on misinformation. We need better reporting.

    March 21, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  4. jp

    the sheep cover has blown off the wolves and they got caught. all along everybody knows that republicans used those half wit uneducated coons to spread racial hatred that republicans can't do. The truth is out and that's what you get for putting forth fron high school and college drop outs as your spoke persons. Please Michael Steel cut the crap. You look like a fool defending these racist idiots and issuing those radical statements. quick being a pupet and comeout of the closet. It's a freaking shame illiteracy is valued more than education nowadays.

    March 21, 2010 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  5. Fedupup

    Be honest to yourself and the millions of American who watch the political news and are well informed of what is going in Washington, the truth is that the Republican leadership are moving lock and steps with the mouth of the opposition like Beck, Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity and the rest of the inciter/apologists. God save the Republican in Washington if they challenge those pundits.
    Fortunately, the Democratic parties have leadership; they act for the ordinary public, who do not have the power and richness of Corporate America, and the very few lucky individuals.
    God Bless the Democratic Leadership, they are my back bone and have all my trust and respect.

    March 21, 2010 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  6. Bill in Dallas

    Boehner and Cantor are hypocrites. These are their people and they attend their rallys and promote their bigoted attacks on the President. They will stoop to anything to stop health care reform in this countrry. Boehner says its because they are afraid, well who placed that fear into them? The Republican Party and their stooges. Cantor and Boehner owe their colleagues a personal apology and a promise to stop spreading their hateful lies. Cantor is a Richmond kid. The last bastion where the whites fought civil rights at every move and then retreated to the suburbs. The Virginia Country Club group are Mr. Cantor's people but he cannot join them as he happens to be Jewish. That really baffles me.

    March 21, 2010 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  7. Matt

    Just like the media to focus on a few idiots (with little proof of what happened..) and not the thousands upon thousands of good citizens protesting an unpopular bill.

    March 21, 2010 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  8. Thinking Long Term

    More Dem Propaganda.
    This bill isn't a racial issue.
    But the people that have made a living out of fanning the flames of racism want you to believe it is.
    That's all they have.

    March 21, 2010 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  9. Truth

    Even the Republicans response says a lot about them. Boehner says it's reprehensible "...but let's not let a few incidents...millions of Americans are scared..." Code words and excuses.

    This is only going to get worse and Republicans are going to have to seriously answer for the ugliness; racism; hate and bigotry that they have encouraged and allowed.

    March 21, 2010 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  10. WJ

    The Democrats have been painting the health-insurance industry and doctors as evil and almost criminal and telling the American people that they are too stupid to figure what is good for them, yet when people make snide and crude comments against them they cry foul!?! Typical liberal hypocrisy. Apparently only the Democrats have free reign use class warfare and racism to promote their agenda.

    March 21, 2010 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  11. Beth

    Shocker... someone says something racist and the Democrats try to claim that person represents every republican out there. News flash.. racism isn't exclusive to a single political party.

    Also.. The Tea Party consider of Independents and Republicans. Both of which have denounced these idiots.

    Please don't get detracted by the shiny new racist object in the room. Stay focused on the true story of the day.. "Health care". The vote today will affect everyone of every race.

    March 21, 2010 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  12. Jane

    Have my doubts about this claim. With all the news media around if these incidents had actually taken place it would have been recorded and reported. I believe this once again is an attempt to slight the American citizens that are protesting the mayhem going on in our nation's capital and make them sound like racists. These congressmen will hear, smear, and taint what they want to to make people opposed to their wants and beliefs look like they are creating trouble. I want to hear and see news tape of these so called incidents...

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

    the only reason they denounced the slurs was because it became an issue.

    I monitor a Republican/Christian forum and the racism is virulent. There is no apology, no voices of dissent to the voices of racial hate.

    Hatred for our fellow Americans is destructive. Get back to the teachings of Christ. Reject fear and hate.

    March 21, 2010 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  14. imac77

    This story is nothing more than diversion...The government takeover of health care Will make government bigger and will cost you , the taxpayer, more money that you and I can't afford. The deficit will only get bigger. One question, have you ever seen a federally-run program that could actually be considered a success? and within budget?

    The shepherd is calling, and his name is Obama.

    March 21, 2010 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  15. Desmond in Canada

    Your customary politically correct denunciations fool nobody. Racism, homophobia, doomsday-naysaying are intimately part of GOP social DNA

    March 21, 2010 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  16. chaney. La.

    Talk about arrogance, What makes Rep/Con/TP think that they are the only true American and all others who do not follow their warped 'chicken little' philosophy are deemed Jesus hating, communist, socialist, muslim debt loving, anti American slugs..... I live in a Red State, and the debate was contaminated from the get own Congress person implied Death panels to a audience of seniors in a retirement home

    March 21, 2010 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  17. hobart

    Too little, too late. The Party of No goes out of its way to court these racists, referring to them fondly as, "our base." They are the folks who make up most of the Tea Party movement, and ironically, they are the same folks who helped Hilary close the gap on Obama near the end of the primaries. At least Hilary had the good sense to abandon these loathsome folks, who despite being registered Dixiecrats nevertheless vote Republican.

    Why do Republicans hate America?

    March 21, 2010 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  18. Marcus

    Quit the generalizations please.
    YES it was disgusting.
    YES those who said or did that mighty never ever be able to realize how un-American were their behaviors.
    YES their are conservatives and against the bill.
    BUT not all people who are Conservatives and/or against the bill are like them.
    I for my myself, who am not a Conservative nor against the bill, have had a few interesting conversations with people who are the opposite (on those two subjects) of me, and are very decent people.
    Decence, respect to democracy and opposite ideas run in both sides.
    As well as indecency and disrespect.

    March 21, 2010 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  19. stephanie

    I think they are just jealous that it took a black man to get the job done.I am a middle class white mother of four from utah and I am sick of people's prejudice. Get over it. Obama made history by becoming the first African American President and now he is making history by doing what no other President, could do, let alone, white President could do. People like Boehner and stations like Fox news who are saying this is going to start an Armageddon and who spread lies are just jealous. I read that most the things in this bill were things that the Republicans wanted and that Bush was going to try and do something like this,he had his 8 yrs. Stop with the lies, stop with the hate. I am ashamed of being white half the time. Republicans and Tea Baggers show nothing but hate and contention and they call themselves Christians, that is the shameful part.

    March 21, 2010 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  20. Bob

    What else would expect from people who refer to themselves and their ilk as the "Moral Majority" and "Compassionate Conservatives," two truly oxymorons.

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

    Republicans released this condemnation as reflexive DAMAGE CONTROL only AFTER hearing and reading the uproar caused by those protesters. Want to bet that if no one had said anything about the slurs, the Republicans and Tea Party leaders would never have brought it up? Just add it to the pile of crap they continually have to sweep under the rug in order to stay in favor with their base.

    March 21, 2010 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  22. Greg, San Francisco, CA

    Loving the denial from the right wing. They didn't catch it on tape so it didn't happen? It's justified because you really, really don't want the health care bill? It's only an isolated incident? The Democrats planted people? You're kidding right? I would say you've sunken to a new low, but you always seems to find a new low.

    March 21, 2010 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  23. Justin

    Go Republicans! Stop this government takeover before our country is bankrupt and taken one step closer to socialism. Quit taking handouts and start standing on your own two feet, this country was founded on individual freedoms and an entrepreneurial spirit, sadly this is fading away. Stop being a drain on your coutry and other hard working citizens.

    March 21, 2010 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  24. Ryan

    Funny how no conservatives complained about growing government when the Dept. of Homeland Security was created after 9/11.

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

    Tea Party groups are out-of-control and uncivll. The TP's seem to think that they can say or do just about anything they want. Witness their actions captured on video in Columbus, Ohio against health care passage. Their behavior was cruel, mean, and very distasteful. Also, the photos of their hateful signs and their slurs on the congressmen or others who disagree with them. Their actions are childish, immature, and the anger is disportionate to the issue.
    If civility is lost, we, as a nation are doomed to chaos, disorder,
    and violence. The TP's need to re-direct their words & protests constructively.

    March 21, 2010 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
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