Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) sparred Wednesday at a hearing on health care over whether Rockefeller implied that Johnson was a “racist” for opposing President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
“It’s very important to take a long view at what’s going on here,” Rockefeller said during a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee. “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.”
The remarks echoed comments Rockefeller made earlier this month, when he accused Republican lawmakers of opposing the President “because he’s the wrong color.” After preceding with committee business Rockefeller turned to Johnson to close out the hearing.
“It was regrettable, and I would say it was offensive, seeing as I’m the only one in the room here really talking about opposition, that you would play the race card,” an emotional Johnson began. “That you would say opposition to Obamacare necessarily must stream from some inherent racism. Very offensive. My opposition to health care has nothing to do with the race of President Obama.”
“I didn’t object to this because of the race of the President,” he later added. “I objected to this because it’s an assault on our freedom. 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.”
“I can only conclude that what you in your heart deeply want for the American people is to go back to the health care system that we had, and to have a totally free enterprise –” Rockefeller said.
“You are assuming the wrong thing, Mr. Chairman,” Johnson shot back. “You’ve implied that I’m a racist. Now you’re saying you want me to go back to a failed health care system?”
“Please don’t assume, don’t make implications of what I’m thinking and what I would really support. You have no idea,” he said after some back-and-forth.
“I actually do. And, you know, God help you,” Rockefeller said.
“No senator, God help you for implying I’m a racist because I oppose this health care,” Johnson said.
Watch the exchange below via the Huffington Post:
Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.