Pennsylvania Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-PA) is under fire from Republicans today for a recent statement that they say proves he doesn’t think minorities are “average, good American people.”
Republicans — especially Kanjorski’s opponent in the 11th District race, the notorious anti-immigrant crusader Lou Barletta — are pushing video of Kanjorski at a recent congressional hearing and strongly suggesting people draw a racially-tinged conclusion from it. Kanjorski himself has not addressed the matter, but his office says he refuses to apologize for the remark, calling the attacks nothing but political posturing.
Here’s the Kanjorski quote, from a financial reform bill conference committee meeting Wednesday, that Republicans are harping on:
“We’re giving relief to people that I deal with in my office every day now unfortunately. But because of the longevity of this recession, these are people — and they’re not minorities and they’re not defective and they’re not all the things you’d like to insinuate that these programs are about — these are average, good American people.”
What the clipped video of the quote — which was first posted to the Human Events website — fails to show, according to Kanjorski’s office, is the fact that the Representative was actually referring to the views of critics of a foreclosure program aimed at helping low-income Americans. Many of those critics are Republicans.Kanjorski was calling on members of the committee to extend to the entire country a Pennsylvania program that helps low-income families avoid foreclosure, a move that he said would cost $3 billion annually. In the statement Kanjorski was addressing critics of the scheme who, he says, claim that the program amounts to freeloading for people who sought mortgages they couldn’t afford during the housing bubble.
“The experience in Pennsylvania and the reason I and other of my colleagues fought for this program isn’t because we’re trying to give relief to people that aren’t responsible, who don’t know what the hell we’re doing,” Kanjorski says, responding to critics of the program, in the full clip — which Human Events did not post. In his statement in the conference committee, Kanjorski said most of the relief from the program would go to the unemployed as he says it has in Pennsylvania.
“We’re giving relief to people I deal with in my office everyday now unfortunately,” he said, a comment aimed at critics of the bill.
Republicans seized on the “good Americans” comment that came just after.
“His remarks were divisive and inappropriate,” NRCC spokesperson Tory Mazzola told me today. “He owes an apology to every hard-working, average American – no matter what their ethnicity – because his comments smack of arrogance and represent an out-of-touch way of thinking that is an injustice to everyone.”
Kanjorski spokesperson Abigail McDonough said the only way anyone might think that was if they had not watched the whole clip.
“Congressman Kanjorski is fighting for all Americans who are struggling,” she said. “Any statement saying otherwise is grossly misinformed. She said Kanjorski refuses to apologize for the remark, stating that the full statement “speaks for itself and doesn’t take the Congressman’s remarks out of context.”
Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), who authored the mortgage provision in the House bill Kanjorski was advocating in his conference committee speech, backed up his colleague from the Keystone State.
“To try and twist the words of a man who has advocated for every segment of America’s diverse population is shameful,” Fattah said in a statement this evening. “I urge my colleagues not to become distracted by partisan politics, and instead focus on what is important; making sure America’s unemployed get to keep their homes.”
There’s an irony in Republicans taking on Kanjorski for insensitive remarks about minorities. Their man in the PA-11 race, Barletta, is known among anti-immigrant advocates as a champion of their cause. Barletta is the mayor of Hazleton, PA where, in 2006, he pushed through laws making it illegal for landlords to lease housing to illegal immigrants, required tenants to register with the government and banned city employees from operating in any other language but English without authorization from above. His stances brought Hazelton a stern rebuke from the federal courts and the ire of groups like the ACLU. As for Barletta, he got an endorsement from David Duke when he ran against Kanjorksi in 2008.
Today, Barletta joined the GOP chorus calling out Kanjorski for his statement in the conference committee.
“Kanjorski, in his own words, said…minorities are not ‘average, good American people,'” Barletta said in a statement posted to his campaign website. “This is outrageous and shows how out of touch Kanjorski is with the real world.”
Late Update: Vince Galko, spokesperson for the Barletta camp called me this evening to comment on Kanjorski’s refusal to apologize.
“We have never called him a racist,” Galko said. “He’s claiming there are certain kinds of people who are defective and we want to know who that is.”
Perhaps acknowledging the sticky wicket Barletta could find himself in talking about insensitivity on the campaign trail, Galko said whatever Kanjorski decides to do next, the remark “will not be a focal point” of the Barletta campaign moving forward.
“I don’t think it’s going to have a major bearing one way or the other,” Galko said. “It’s just Kanjorski being Kanjorski.”
Here’s video of Kanjorski’s statement, in context:
And here‘s a link to the whole thing, provided by Kanjorski’s office.