GOP senator defends Hyde-Smith: 'Nothing at all racial' about 'public hanging' remarks

GOP senator defends Hyde-Smith: 'Nothing at all racial' about 'public hanging' remarks
© Greg Nash

Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerHillicon Valley: Trump reportedly weighing executive action on alleged tech bias | WH to convene summit on online extremism | Federal agencies banned from buying Huawei equipment | Lawmakers jump start privacy talks The Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill MORE on Wednesday defended fellow Republican Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith over her controversial "public hanging" remark, claiming there was "nothing at all racial" about the viral comment.

"There’s been a lot of mock outrage about this statement that she made," Wicker, who has served in the Senate since 2007, said on Fox News. "There was nothing at all racial about it."

Still, he said, "I could see how the statement was misconstrued and elevated to a level of hysteria that I really didn’t expect."

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Wicker's comments came a day after Hyde-Smith defeated Democrat Mike Espy in the Mississippi Senate runoff election, a campaign that was roiled by allegations of racism that the GOP incumbent rejected.

For the final weeks of the campaign, Hyde-Smith faced heavy criticism from Democrats and civil rights activists who slammed her for saying she would "be on the front row" if a supporter invited her to a "public hanging."

Mississippi historically had the highest number of lynchings of African-Americans of any state between 1882 and 1968 with 581, according to the NAACP

Hyde-Smith's campaign largely declined to comment publicly on the brewing controversy as it unfolded. She eventually apologized, saying only that her words had been twisted and she was joking with a supporter when she said it. 

Wicker said Wednesday he believes Republicans made the mistake of "underestimating the degree to which it might be misconstrued as having something to do with our violent history."

Hyde-Smith was appointed to fill the remainder of Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranBiden has a lot at stake in first debate The Hill's Morning Report — Trump turns the page back to Mueller probe Trump praises Thad Cochran: 'A real senator with incredible values' MORE's (R-Miss.) term, which extends until 2020. Cochran retired in April amid health concerns.

She received a last-minute boost in her runoff campaign from President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump watching 'very closely' as Portland braces for dueling protests WaPo calls Trump admin 'another threat' to endangered species Are Democrats turning Trump-like? MORE, who tweeted his support throughout Tuesday and held two campaign rallies for her on the eve of the election.

Hyde-Smith's win boosts the Republican Senate majority to 53-47 in the chamber starting in January.