Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Democrat Tony Cardenas responds to being told ‘go back to Puerto Rico’

Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) said a Republican telling him to “go back to Puerto Rico” sounded like the equivalent of “go back to where you came from.”

During a House vote on reopening the government yesterday, an argument broke out between Republicans and Democrats over a procedural question. Amid the chaos, Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) yelled, “Go back to Puerto Rico!”

“When people blurt things out like that, it certainly sounds like the old saying, ‘go back to where you came from,’ ” Cárdenas told The Hill later. Cárdenas said he immediately asked his Republican colleagues who’d made the remark, but no one came forward.

Smith later acknowledged he’d made the remark, but not in reference to any one member. He said he directed it to any Democrat who had taken part in a weekend delegation to the U.S. territory; “Was speaking to all the Democrats who were down vacationing in Puerto Rico last weekend during the shutdown, not any individual member,” Smith told The Hill after the incident.

Smith later called Cárdenas and apologized. Smith “took responsibility for the comment and sincerely apologized. I accepted his apology,” according to Cárdenas. Cárdenas added he finds the timing of Smith’s explanation dubious.

“I would have preferred that Jason Smith would have owned up to it at the moment, so I could have asked him what he meant and he could have clarified to a fellow member. Instead it sounds like after having time to think about it he’s come up with this explanation,” said Cárdenas.

The remarks, Cárdenas said, show a lack of understanding about the minority experience in the United States, regardless of how they were meant. “I’m offended somebody that screamed that out across the floor of the House to somebody like me, that unfortunately when I was a child I used to hear it that on the playground from other kids,” said Cárdenas.

“To hear an adult member of Congress scream that out is very disturbing and disappointing. We have a long way to go in this country when it comes to people seeing others as equals,” he added.