Outrage: Jay Rockefeller, Ron Johnson duel over ‘race card’
By: Burgess Everett
May 22, 2014 12:11 AM EDT
Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Ron Johnson on Wednesday argued in the Senate whether Rockefeller’s remarks about Republican opposition to Obamacare amounted to implying that Johnson is “a racist.”
As he chaired a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee, Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat accused the GOP of opposing President Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act because he’s the “wrong color,” eliciting an emotional reaction from Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, that the Democratic senator “would basically imply that I’m a racist.”
Johnson, the lone Republican in the room during Rockefeller’s remarks, told Rockefeller “it was regrettable and I would say it was offensive … that you would play the race card.”
“That you would say that opposition to Obamacare necessarily must stream from some inherent racism? Very offensive. Listen, my opposition to health care has nothing to do with the race of President Obama,” Johnson said. “It is the greatest assault on our freedom in my lifetime.”
It was the second time this month that the retiring liberal lawmaker had accused Republicans of opposing the president over race, arguing during a transportation funding hearing that the GOP doesn’t want anything good to happen under Obama’s watch “because he’s the wrong color.”
On Wednesday, his critiques of the GOP again came in a sparsely attended committee hearing, this time during an analysis of health-care spending.
“It’s very important to take a long view at what’s going on here. And I’ll be able to dig up some emails that make part of the Affordable Care Act that doesn’t look good, especially from people who have made up their mind that they don’t want it to work. Because they don’t like the president, maybe he’s of the wrong color. Something of that sort,” Rockefeller said. “I’ve seen a lot of that and I know a lot of that to be true. It’s not something you’re meant to talk about in public, but it’s something I’m talking about in public because that is very true.”
Rockefeller then referred to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and said he has been “committed” to “blocking every piece of legislation” that Obama puts forth, with some exceptions.
“I find that disingenuous behavior,” Rockefeller said, lambasting Republicans for using “convenient political arguments” against Obamacare for several minutes, arguing every law has “waste, fraud and abuse.”
Though Rockefeller then went about the committee proceedings, a stunned Johnson had not forgotten the racial comment Rockefeller made 10 minutes earlier and responded angrily to the Democrat’s assertion that Obamacare opposition is race-based.
“I didn’t object to this because of the race of the president. I objected to this because it is an assault on our freedom. And Mr. Chairman, I have to admit, I have a great deal of respect for you, but I’m the only one in the room, and I found it very offensive that you would basically imply that I’m a racist because I oppose this health care law. That is outrageous,” Johnson said, then asking a question of the witness.
Rockefeller concluded then that Johnson wants the American people to return to the “totally free enterprise” health-care system before the Affordable Care Act, an assumption Johnson bristled at and called “incorrect.”
“You are assuming the wrong thing, Mr. Chairman. You’ve implied that I’m a racist. Now you’re saying [I want] to go back to a failed health care system?” Johnson responded. “Please don’t assume, don’t make implications of what I’m thinking and what I would really support. You have no idea.”
“I actually do. And, you know, God help you,” Rockefeller said, insisting he never called Johnson a racist.
“No senator, God help you for implying I’m a racist because I oppose this health care,” Johnson said. “I was called a racist. I think most people would lose their temper, Mr. Chairman.”