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. Bill

    As I recall, there was a certain Democratic governor from Alabama
    that was infamous for his racism.
    It's an ugly fact of life that no party is immune from racism. All we can do is condemn it whenever it rears it's ugly head.

    March 21, 2010 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  2. zippy

    Iam sick off thes spin less libs and prog s' they ar all cowerds' and cry babys ;

    March 21, 2010 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  3. Julie

    These are the kind of people that are attracted to the GOP right now. That in iteself says something about where they are at, doesn't it? Do they out and out say they don't want anything to do with those kind of people and they should go elsewhere? No – Cantor said they should rachet it back just a bit.

    March 21, 2010 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  4. Maria Mancias

    What is it about tea partiers and Republicans, they are just a bunch of ignorant, mean, nasty people. They don't want others to have a chance at a decent way of life. They are all living in their own ME, ME world. It is the Republicans that are inciting all the violence and bigotry because that is what they believe in. They preach paranoia and hatred. Now it is their responsibility to be accountable and begin representing the Ameican people as the majority wants.

    March 21, 2010 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  5. sara

    can't we just get passed all this, it is getting old. This is not news – it's just planting seeds to get people all stirred up. It also gives CNN something to talk about on the early show. Sometimes I wonder if it's not all made up. My Dad always said, "believe none of what you hear, and not even half of what you see."

    March 21, 2010 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  6. acfaber291

    this didn't happen.

    WAPO scribblers were goevn these lies by congressional liars and printed them without verification.

    WAPO's audience must all be uninformed.

    March 21, 2010 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  7. Douglas

    Republicans are racist, that is their nature. They are anti-social, that is their nature. They are greedy with guts full of fear, that is their nature. They are anti-science and beleive everyone else not of their religion is going to hell, that is their nature. Just what is it that is surprising about this group at the Whitehouse?

    March 21, 2010 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  8. Arlene, Illinois

    One thing the Republicans have learned from all this is
    they have put the word NO in there platform for all time.
    Wish the Democrates could unite like the republicans do
    and just say YES.

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

    Where are the democrats stopping the anti-war protesters who spit on our soldiers, and denounce their valiant efforts. Demorats practice the worst form of hypocrisy.

    March 21, 2010 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  10. Lin

    Cantor is an arrogant and ignorant coward. No one in the U.S. should tolerate racist and homophobic slurs. It's disgusting that Cantor and others are just pandering for a few teabagger donations for his reelection campaign.
    As for members of Congress having to listen to their whacked out racist, homophobic, and hate-filled constituents – NO, they don't! No one should be forced to listen to such hate-filled, non-sensical garbage!

    March 21, 2010 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  11. Robert

    Fox News is responsible for this. US Citizens hate their government because Fox News broadcasts hate and lies.

    March 21, 2010 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  12. paul

    it;s a sad, sad day when all our conversation turns into this shouting and screaming let's remind everyone the tea baggers are not a movement or party there hearts are full of hate , stop the hate.

    March 21, 2010 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  13. Vietnam vet

    The Republicans had over 30 years to come up with a health care fix for this country. They had 8 years with Reagan and came up with nothing. They had 4 years with Bush I and came up with nothing.. They voted down Clinton' plan in 1992 and came up with nothing. They then had 8 years with Bush II and cam up with nothing. I suggest they keep up with what they did for 30 years, that is keep their mouths shut. It's time for universal health care. We are the only industrialized country on the planet without coverage. I have Blue Cross/Blue shild and my premium increased 20% this past January along with higher co-pays. Enough is enough. Thank God for the Democrats.

    March 21, 2010 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  14. JP

    i want my 1 trillion dollars back that we spent on weapons in 2006, maybe instead of spending it on weapons we should've spent it on stuff like healthcare and infrastructure and education

    March 21, 2010 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  15. doc75

    Wow. No coverage at all about the rest of the protesters. No coverage about their messages on personal freedom of health care options. No coverage on not wanting themselves, their children or grandchildren taking on more debt from entitlements. No coverage on the diversity of people represented in the protest. No coverage at all until the comment incident that has yet to be verified on tape. For that matter, it sounds like a Axelrod/Plouffe/Alinsky trick to plant people in the protest crowd to make slurs. But it sure worked and knocked the protesters message off the air (not that it was hard to do anyway). But leave it to the media to report what it wants without bothering to find out who really spoke the slurs.

    March 21, 2010 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  16. Brian

    I always said that the republican party has a number of racial ignorant people within their party. I do not know the percentage of these people in the party but I know they exist within the party. You can hide it for only so long but when it gets into a contentious debate, the true colors will eventually come through. We are now seeing the true colors of some republicans. It was always there!!

    March 21, 2010 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  17. Aspen Professor

    The Republican called the racist incidents "isolated" incidents that shouldn't overshadow the debate over health care. Isolated my butt!

    The right wing extremists have gone off the chart with their so-called isolated incidents. Their breed of fools are led by Beck and Limbaugh.

    The Tea Party, bought and paid for by the right wing extremists is nothing more than a ploy to deflect the crap from blowing up in the faces of the Republicans.

    Hypocritical – terrified idiots all over America are laying in thousands of rounds of ammunition, buying machine guns, and digging foxholes.
    May their holes fill with water and their ammunition misfire.

    March 21, 2010 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  18. Randolph Holloway

    When we have people putting racism before issues and we have politicians using that as a means of political gain then this country is in trouble. Let all those politicians who have medical insurance for the rest of their lives for their families go without for a year or two and then let them be judgemental. Until then they cannot put themselves in anyone shoes and neither can I. I have healthcare not the best but its healthcare so I can't imagine being without. So all these people need to go see the people that do not and imagine and guess what I do not believe then it will be an issue. We all need to grow up and let our President who we elected do his job.

    March 21, 2010 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  19. Chuck B

    Why do Republicans whine so much on how they are misrepresent in the media? When the cameras are on we see thousands of right winged fringe members (tea-baggers) with the "don't tread on me" flags... assault weapons toting, state succession ranting, I want my country chanting, and racial hate slurring at the Republican organize rallies... those were the Republicans I saw on the news for the past year. If you believe those people are not a true representation of your party, then you need to take your party back! Since the rallies I watch on TV looks like something out of a DW Griffith movie, “Birth of a Nation."

    March 21, 2010 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  20. Indar20

    This article needs a correction - obviously Mike Pence did not march with Lewis in Selma. Pence was born in 1959, and was therefore 6 years old when Lewis led the march from Selma to Montgomery. Please correct.

    March 21, 2010 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  21. Jackalope

    Let's review the history of the modern Republican party. When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, southern Democrats bolted from their party, eventually flocking to the American Independent party, which ran racist Alabama governor George Wallace as its presidential candidate. Republican Richard Nixon was elected that year.

    Nixon adviser, Kevin Phillips developed the "Southern Strategy" for the next election in an attempt to woo segregationist southern white voters into the Republican party. He succeeded, and now the Republican party is increasingly becoming a haven for conservative white bigots, not only in the south, but around the nation in general.

    The attempt by these Republicans to condemn the bigoted actions of these teabagger types is shallow and insincere. These bigots are the base of the GOP, and without them, they cannot win elections.

    March 21, 2010 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  22. URong

    Slick has a point. Where is the video/audio coverage of this??? Surely these Democrats, that claim they were called nasty names, aren't making false accusations? They've NEVER done that before, huh? Wake up everyone!! Both sides need a clean sweep of the incumbents come this November. It was the Republicans that let their power go to their heads & got themselves voted out & now were stuck w/these losers! GET RID OF ALL INCUMBANT DEMOCRATS & REPUBLICANS THIS NOVEMBER!! Vote in someone that will listen to you, THE TAXPAYER!!!

    March 21, 2010 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  23. DTV

    We all know that the president would have a much easier time on his policies if he was white. I bet you that its eating away at many people that a black man is the president of the US.

    March 21, 2010 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  24. scott

    For a group of people who seem so offended at any thing that even begins to seem like stereotyping, they certain love to stereotype republicans. You can't have it both ways.

    March 21, 2010 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  25. RinMaine

    That is the kind of people that they are, and the Republicans are their apologists.

    March 21, 2010 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
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