Rep. Allen West, the only Republican member of the Congressional Black Caucus, is threatening to quit the group over what he considers racially divisive rhetoric by some of its members.
West, no stranger to fiery and controversial rhetoric himself, is miffed over statements by Reps. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) that were critical of the Tea Party, which helped West get elected last year.
Carson told an audience at a recent CBC event in Miami that “some of these folks in Congress right now would love to see us as second-class citizens,” adding “Some of them in Congress right now with this Tea Party movement would love to see you and me hanging on a tree.”
Waters has been equally disdainful of the Tea Party. At a recent CBC event near Los Angeles she maintained that “the Tea Party can go straight to hell.”
This was all too much for West, who fired off a letter to Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo), chair of the Black Caucus, demanding that he condemn the remarks.
“It’s unconscionable when a fellow CBC member, Congressman Andre Carson, comes to South Florida and claims that some in the Tea Party would love to see Black Americans ‘hanging from a tree,’” West wrote to Cleaver. “As Chairman of the CBC, I believe it is incumbent on you to both condemn these types of hate-filled comments and to disassociate the Congressional Black Caucus from these types of remarks. Otherwise, I will have to seriously consider my membership within the organization.”
Cleaver could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
Carson, one of two Muslim members of Congress, didn’t back down from his Tea Party assessment. Jason Tomcsi, in an e-mail to Politico, said Carson’s comment reflected the “frustration voiced by many in Miami and in his home district in Indianapolis regarding Congress’ inability to bolster the economy.
“The Tea Party is protecting its millionaire and oil company friends while gutting services that they know protect the livelihood of African-Americans, as well as Latinos and other disadvantaged minorities,” Tomcsi wrote. “We are talking about child nutrition, job creation, job training, housing assistance and Head Start, and that is just the beginning.”
Carson and Tea Party members have some history. In March 2010, he was walking with Cleaver and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) when they were accosted by angry demonstrators near the Capitol during a health care bill protest that was attended by thousands of Tea Party supporters. The black lawmakers said they were spat upon and called the N-word by protestors.
And West, a retired Army officer, has a history with volatile rhetoric. During his 2010 campaign, he claimed that he had a higher security clearance than President Barack Obama, a claim that the fact-checking web site PoltiFact gave its “Pants on Fire” rating.
In July, Cleaver said he intended to talk to West after the Florida freshman sent a scathing email to Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz after she challenged West’s commitment to Medicare on the House floor.
“Let me make myself perfectly clear, you want a fight, I am happy to oblige,” West, a retired Army officer, wrote in the e-mail. “You are the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the U.S. House of Representatives. If you have something to say to me, stop being a coward and say it to my face, otherwise, shut the heck up.”
The comments about Wasserman Schultz who, ironically, is West’s congresswoman because he lives in her district, is some of the gentler stuff he’s said since coming to Capitol Hill.
In a July post to a Republican website, West wrote, “I must confess, when I see anyone is with an Obama 2012 bumper sticker, I recognize them as a threat to the gene pool.” Speaking on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor,” West likened himself to Harriet Tubman, who helped slaves escape to freedom.
“So I’m here as the modern day Harriet Tubman to kind of lead people on the Underground Railroad away from that plantation into a sense of sensibility,” he told Bill O’Reilly.
Though he bristles at Carson’s lynching analogy, West had no problems backing conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham’s assertion last month that Black Caucus members like Waters and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) function as a “plantation boss.”
Lee’s office shot back to West’s words.
“Congressman West’s comments are absurd on their face,” said Kristal DeKleer, a Lee spokeswoman, “and are simply another in a long stream of incendiary comments designed to fan the flames of the extreme right while they continue to do nothing to create jobs and address the tremendous disparities we face in this nation.”
West is considered a star within the Tea Party. Some Tea Party supporters wanted him to run for president and have even urged Republican presidential candidates to consider West for vice president.
But the West bloom fell off the rose for some Tea Partiers when he backed a deal that paved the way for Congress to raise the federal debt ceiling and avoid defaulting on its loan obligations.
Not surprisingly, West had some choice words for fickle Tea Party people who jumped off his bandwagon.
“One minute they’re saying that I’m their ‘Tea Party hero’ and what, three or four days later, I’m a ‘Tea Party defector,’” he said. “That kind of schizophrenia I’m not going to get involved in.”
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