On Sunday shows, GOP leaders divided on Limbaugh/Gingrich racism charge against Sotomayor

››› ››› LILY YAN

On the Sunday shows, Lindsey Graham, Mitt Romney, Jeff Sessions, and Ed Gillespie attempted to distance themselves from conservative smears of Sonia Sotomayor as a racist. Jon Kyl dodged questions on the topic, as did Mitch McConnell before he eventually stated, "It is certainly not my view."

On the May 31 Sunday-morning talk shows, several Republicans leaders were asked about conservative smears of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor as a racist. As Media Matters for America has documented and as the interviewers noted in some cases, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh -- whose importance to the Republican Party and the conservative movement GOP leaders have repeatedly emphasized -- and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- whom the media have frequently touted as the party's "ideas man" -- have both referred to Sotomayor as a "racist," with Limbaugh further comparing her to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. In some cases, the Republican leaders stated on the Sunday shows that they disagree with the characterization of Sotomayor as a racist and disapproved of its use; in other cases, they attempted to duck the question.

Several Republican leaders attempted to distance themselves from the "racist" charge advanced by Limbaugh, Gingrich, and other conservative media figures:

  • On Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), "Newt Gingrich says that she's [Sotomayor's] a racist; Rush Limbaugh compares her to former Klansman David Duke. Are they right?" Graham replied: "No. They interject themselves in the debate. They got an audience to entertain. Newt's a political commentator. I'm a United States senator." Graham went on to state, "I don't think she's a racist."
  • Later on Fox News Sunday, Wallace asked former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), "What do you think of Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh calling her [Sotomayor] a racist?" Romney replied, "Well, I disagree with them. I think this is process where you have an individual who's intelligent, well-educated, with an extensive record. She deserves a full and fair hearing, and I listened to the prior senators on your show. They intend to give her that."
  • On NBC's Meet the Press, host David Gregory stated "Republicans outside the Senate, conservatives, have mounted a pretty fierce reaction in their criticism of her [Sotomayor's] remarks" and went on to cite attacks by Gingrich and Limbaugh. Gregory later asked Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), "Calling her racist, a reverse racist, comparing her to David Duke. Do you think that's appropriate?" Sessions responded, "I don't think I am going to use any such words as that. I read her speech. I'm troubled by her speech. I think she has an opportunity to explain that. And I don't think we should -- that I'm going to use such loaded words. People on the outside can say what they choose to say." Gregory interjected, "But wait. But do you make a judgment about them? Do you think they're appropriate?" Sessions replied, "I don't think those are words that I would use," later adding, "I don't think that's an appropriate description of her." After Gregory asked, "Do you think that conservatives should stop using those words to describe her?" Sessions replied, "I would prefer that they not."
  • On ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Republican strategist Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and counselor to former President Bush, stated, "Look, I disagree with my friends on the Republican side, some who say, 'Well, we should give her a pass because she's a Latina.' I disagree with those who say, 'Well, she's racist because of these comments.' Neither of that is the right approach."

By contrast, as the blog Think Progress noted, on CBS' Face the Nation, when host Bob Schieffer asked Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), "Do you think Republicans ought to stop calling her a racist?" Kyl attempted to duck the question, responding, "I don't know of Republicans in the Senate who have ever ... called her a racist." When Schieffer asked again, "Let me just clear up one thing. You do not think she is a racist, do you, Senator Kyl -- or do you?" Kyl replied, "I'm not going to get drawn into characterizations before I've even met her."

Additionally, on CNN's State of the Union, host John King cited the comments by Limbaugh and Gingrich and asked Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), "You have a difficult job anyway. Are Rush and Newt making it a lot harder by using language like that?" McConnell avoided the question, stating, "Look, those of us who have a vote in this process are the ones who are studying this nomination. We've got a country full of people with their opinions, many of whom have big audiences, and they're certainly entitled to their opinions."

King then asked in part, "Would it be better that they choose their words more carefully?" McConnell again dodged the question, replying in part, "I'm not going to get into policing everybody's speech. The important thing here is to look at the nominee, her qualifications, read the 3,600 cases, and do it right. That's what the American people expect of us." King again followed up by asking, "Can I read into that, though, that you do not agree? You would not label -- " to which McConnell replied, "It is certainly not my view. My view is, we ought to take a look at this nominee's qualifications."

From the May 31 edition of CNN's State of the Union with John King:

KING: Back with the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, joining us from his home state of Kentucky. Senator, I want to walk through the interesting politics of the first few days of this Supreme Court nomination battle. And let's go back to the beginning. President Obama, of course, made his pick on Tuesday in the morning, announcing his intention to nominate Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Within two hours, on the radio, Rush Limbaugh was on the attack, saying she was unqualified and more.

LIMBAUGH [video clip]: So, here you have a racist. You might want to soften that, and you might want to say a reverse racist. And the libs, of course, say that minorities cannot be racists because they don't have the power to implement their racism. Well, those days are gone because reverse racists certainly do have the power to implement their power. Obama is the greatest living example of a reverse racist, and now he's appointed one.

KING: Forty-eight hours later, though, those remarks making some Republicans uneasy. Senator John Cornyn, who's from Texas and also heads your senatorial campaign committee, says he finds those remarks terrible. And Senator McConnell, he went on to note that neither Rush Limbaugh nor Newt Gingrich, who also labeled Sonia Sotomayor a racist, get votes on this. They're not in the United States Senate.

You have a difficult job anyway. Are Rush and Newt making it a lot harder by using language like that?

McCONNELL: Look, those of us who have a vote in this process are the ones who are studying this nomination. We've got a country full of people with their opinions, many of whom have big audiences, and they're certainly entitled to their opinions. What we're going to do --

KING: "Entitled to their opinions." I don't mean to interrupt. I don't like [unintelligible] "Entitled to their opinions." But you're the Republican leader, you're the highest elected Republican in the United States of America. You've got a tough job.

Would it be best -- would it be best that language like "racist" not be used by a man who millions of people listen to -- a lot of people who vote for your candidates -- and for a man who is not only the former speaker of the House of Representatives but is headlining a major fundraising dinner for House and Senate candidates this coming week here in Washington? Would it be better that they choose their words more carefully?

McCONNELL: Look, I've got a big job to do dealing with 40 Senate Republicans and trying to advance the nation's agenda. I've got better things to do than be the speech police over people who are going to have their views about a very important appointment, which is an appointment to the United States Supreme Court. So, I'm not going to get into policing everybody's speech. The important thing here is to look at the nominee, her qualifications, read the 3,600 cases, and do it right. That's what the American people expect of us.

KING: Can I read into that, though, that you do not agree? You would not label --

McCONNELL: It is certainly not my view. My view is, we ought to take a look at this nominee's qualifications. I think her life story is absolutely impressive.

KING: Let's move on.

McCONNELL: And we all admire the fact that she has started off from humble beginnings, did well in school, and has had long career in public service. But the issue before us now is, should she be a Supreme Court justice? And that's what we're going to be concentrating on here in the next few months.

From the May 31 edition of CBS' Face the Nation:

SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, let's see. Senator Kyl, do you think she's going to have to back away from this in some way or the other?

KYL: Well, I think she's going to have to assure the members of the Senate that when she approaches judging, that she will actually do so on the basis of the oath that she takes. Let me just read part of that oath to you. It says, "I solemnly swear that I will administer justice without respect to persons and do equal right to the poor and to the rich."

And what that means is that she literally has to have a blindfold over her when she decides cases -- not bring in her empathy for the poor person, for example. If the law is on the side of the rich person, then she has to rule in favor of the rich person. If she will do that, then I think she'll have no trouble in her confirmation.

SHIEFFER: Let me ask you this, Senator Kyl: Do you think Republicans ought to stop calling her a racist?

KYL: I don't know of Republicans in the Senate who have ever -- excuse me -- called her a racist. And by the way, just let me say two quick things.

SCHIEFFER: I said Republicans, not Republicans --

KYL: Yeah.

SCHIEFFER: -- in the Senate.

KYL: Well, our job -- I hope our job is a little bit like we're insisting for judges. And that is, we look at the facts, we examine the situation, and then we make our decision. I do want to clarify one thing, by the way: It is true that she was appointed to the federal district bench by the first President Bush. But that was based on a political compromise with the Democrat senator of New York, who was allowed to name two of the seven judges that were nominated from New York. It was his pick that resulted in her nomination by the president, so it was not a situation that President Bush chose her for her nomination. That's not to take away from her qualifications. I'm simply correcting that bit of the record.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): Well, and it's not to take away from the fact that he appointed her, either.

SCHIEFFER: Let me just clear up one thing. You do not think she is a racist, do you, Senator Kyl -- or do you?

KYL: Bob, I'm not going to get drawn into characterizations before I've even met her. I'll be meeting her on Tuesday. I intend to review very care-- I actually practiced before the Supreme Court. I enjoy reading opinions. And I'm going to read as many of her opinions and look at the decisions that she's made before I make any pronouncements. I think that's what we're asking her to do as a judge when she approaches cases, and I think she would want us to approach our consideration of her nomination in the same fashion.

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