A senior Democratic senator suggested Wednesday that President Obama’s race factored into opposition to the Affordable Care Act, sparking outrage on the part of one of his Republican colleagues.
The comments by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, who’s retiring at the end of this year, came near the end of a hearing on a provision in the health care law that calls for insurance companies to use most of what their customers pay in premiums on medical care, rather than on overhead and administrative costs.
“I think it’s very important to take a long view at what’s going on,” Rockefeller said. “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 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. I’ve seen a lot of that and I know a lot of that to be true.
“Maybe he’s of the wrong color, something of that sort. I’ve seen a lot of that and I know a lot of that to be true.”
“It’s not something you’re meant to talk about in public but it’s something I’m talking about in public because that is very true,” he continued. “[The Republican] leader in the Senate has committed at the beginning of the president’s term to block every piece of legislation that the president puts forward, and they have done that with this exception and there have been other exceptions, and I find that disingenuous behavior.”
Rockefeller’s comments drew a heated rebuke from GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who was elected in the tea-party wave of 2010. Johnson was the only senator to react to the comment because others had already left the hearing room.
“It was regrettable and I would say it was offensive, seeing as how I’m the only one in the room here really talking about opposition, that you would play the race card, that you would say opposition to Obamacare necessarily must stream from, inert, inherent racism — very offensive,” Johnson told Rockefeller.
Johnson went on to praise the health care system as it was before Obamacare, crediting it with helping his daughter, who was born with a heart condition.
“So, no, I didn’t object to this because of the race of the president,” he said. “I objected to this because it is an assault on our freedom. Mr. Chairman, I have to admit I have a great deal of respect for you and 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 opposed this law.”
Johnson added: “Please don’t assume. Don’t make implications of what I’m thinking and what I would support. You have no idea.”
Rockefeller replied: “I actually do, you know. God help you.”
Johnson: “No, senator, God help you for implying I’m a racist.”
Rockefeller: “I did not imply you’re a racist.”
Rockefeller then veered into another topic before adjourning the hearing.