Republicans dismiss white supremacy charge but show unease about rhetoric
House Republicans are dismissing accusations that their leadership is harboring white nationalism amid criticism that heated political rhetoric on the right is partly to blame for the racist shooting at a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket on Saturday.
Twinges of discontent with aggressive and extremist rhetoric have been an undercurrent in the House GOP conference since the Trump years, but even members critical of some statements by their most outspoken colleagues disagree strongly with the idea that their leadership is fueling white supremacy.
The members expressed implicit criticisms of some colleagues but argued the whole conference shouldn’t be painted by the remarks of some members.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), shown Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) tweet accusing GOP leadership of enabling white nationalism and white supremacy, said he was not sure what Cheney was referring to.
“If giving Marjorie any platform is that, then OK, sure,” Crenshaw added, referring to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), with whom he has sparred in the past.
“I know we have members who went to a freakin’ white nationalist conference. So there’s that. But that’s not leadership. That’s just that genius from Georgia,” Crenshaw said.
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), a centrist who backed impeaching former President Trump and is retiring at the end of this Congress, also pushed back at suggestions that Republicans were supporting white supremacy but expressed discontent with some of the rhetoric of his colleagues.
“Obviously, we got some fringe elements in our party that may stand there but it’s, you know, we ought to all be speaking out against it,” Upton said.
A number of Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), have joined Cheney, one of two Republicans on the Jan. 6 panel, in accusing GOP leadership of harboring racist sentiment.
The accusations came following the shooting in Buffalo, where a gunman who allegedly espoused the racist “great replacement theory” shot 13 people and killed 10 at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Eleven of the victims were Black.
The baseless conspiracy theory purports that white Americans are being intentionally overrun by a growing number of minorities.
Democrats and plenty of other observers in media and political circles have linked statements from conservative commentators and some GOP members of Congress to the theory, arguing various remarks and messages represent dog whistles or more to advance the theory.
Republican leaders have vigorously denied enabling white supremacy, saying that concerns about laws like one passed in New York City to allow noncitizens to vote are legitimate and not rooted in racism.
They also point to previous arguments saying amnesty could boost Democrats, such as a 2013 report from the liberal Center for American Progress said that a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants was necessary to maintain electoral strength.
Crenshaw and Upton aren’t alone in defending their leadership from the criticism of Cheney, who was bounced from her position as the No. 3 GOP leader because of her criticism of Trump.
“Both sides have some fringe members, but the 99 percent are not racist. Let’s just be candid about that,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.).
At the same time, some of the rhetoric is dividing the conference.
Bacon mentioned a tweet from House GOP Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), who was elected to replace Cheney, referencing “pedo grifters” when talking about those criticizing GOP messaging on the baby formula shortage.
Stefanik’s office said that the term was a reference to the anti-Trump Lincoln Project group, which had a founder who allegedly sent unsolicited sexual messages to young men.
“I also don’t like calling people pedo grifters, either. It’s hard to say, ‘Hey, I don’t think – our parents do not want our kindergartners talk about sexual identity,’” Bacon said.
“It’s wrong to use the pedo term,” Upton said separately.
Stefanik’s messaging has been under the microscope this week, with Democrats hammering a September 2021 Facebook ad that said they are trying to “overthrow our current electorate” through amnesty and allowing noncitizens to vote. They say the Stefanik ad echoed replacement theory. Stefanik and her office have vehemently rejected the argument.
A number of GOP lawmakers have avoided delving into Cheney’s accusations about white supremacy or GOP rhetoric on immigration altogether in the wake of the Buffalo shooting.
“I love the American system, where people voice their opinions. That’s why I’m here, ‘cause I want to preserve that platform,” said Rep. Maria E. Salazar (R-Fla.), noting that she represents Cuban exiles who did not have First Amendment free speech protections.
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) had a similar response, saying that she had not read media reports regarding the “great replacement theory” and the allegations against Stefanik. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) scrunched his face and shook his head when asked about the accusations, referring The Hill to his office for comment.
Some members, however, are flocking to leadership’s side.
“I just don’t think that’s accurate,” Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (R-N.J.), who switched parties during the Trump administration, told The Hill when asked about the accusations that House GOP leadership has enabled white supremacy.
“I don’t think that there’s anybody in the Republican Party — I honestly believe there’s nobody that wants to enable, enhance or anyway support white supremacy,” he said.
Republicans at a press conference on Tuesday announcing a PAC to support Hispanic GOP congressional candidates heaped praise on Stefanik, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).
Fox News host Tucker Carlson has also come under scrutiny for touting replacement theory, and the views of cable’s top-rated news host almost certainly have an effect on the GOP conference.
But even Carlson’s GOP critics, such as Crenshaw, dismiss suggestions he’s to blame for the Buffalo violence.
“Like, I hate Tucker Carlson. I despise him. But he didn’t cause this, right?” said Crenshaw, whom Carlson insulted as “eyepatch McCain” on his show earlier this week. “Like, I think he’s a gross human being. Doesn’t mean that his rhetoric caused it. This was caused by a legitimately crazy person.”
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