Bonilla Calls on Brown to Resign
Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas) is demanding that Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) resign her seat in Congress after she labeled a Bush official and two Hispanic lawmakers a bunch of “white men” who “all look the same” during a private Congressional briefing on Haiti.
Brown kicked off the firestorm at a Wednesday night meeting of the Florida delegation in which she lashed out at State Department official Roger Noriega, who is Mexican-American. Republicans in the room charged that Brown also appeared to be referring to a pair of Hispanic Members from Florida, Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R).
In reaction to a RollCall.com report on Thursday about the confrontation, Bonilla said that it’s time for the Florida lawmaker to step down.
“Congresswoman Brown’s comments demonstrate a complete lack of ethnic sensitivity,” said Bonilla, a founding member of the Congressional Hispanic Conference. “This irresponsible statement represents a step backward for race relations. I will not stand by and allow these comments to be made without repercussions.”
After initially refusing to apologize in a telephone conversation with HOH on Wednesday night, Brown released a statement of apology late Thursday. But she refused to pull back from her general claim that President Bush is pursuing a racist policy in Haiti.
“I sincerely did not mean to offend Secretary Noriega or anyone in the room,” said Brown, who also sent a letter of apology to the assistant secretary of State. “Rather, my comments, as they relate to ‘white men,’ were aimed at the policies of the Bush administration as they pertain to Haiti, which I do consider to be racist.”
Bonilla responded to HOH: “An apology without a retraction is an effort to take the political heat off herself without an admission that she was wrong. Representative Brown must recognize that racism is wrong and must retract her racist statement.”
Brown confirmed that she told Noriega and others in the room that the Haitian people are in desperate straits “because of all you white men” who have under-funded relief programs.
Sources in the room told HOH that Noriega took great offense at the comment. Some people in the room felt that Brown’s comment was also directed at Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American, who had been helping Noriega brief the delegation on the situation in Haiti.
“Do I look white to you?” Noriega asked. “Does Lincoln look white to you?”
According to a source in the room, Brown shot back: “You guys all look the same.”
Asked whether she said that, Brown told HOH, “Yeah, I did. I wasn’t speaking of color. I’m speaking of policy. I’m speaking of racist policy. Racist policy!”
Brown then added: “They’re always trying to get assistance for the Cuban people, but no assistance for the Haitian people.”
When pressed on how Noriega responded to her, Brown said, “He said he was Mexican. I wasn’t even talking about Lincoln or what’s the other one’s name?”
Brown was apparently referring to Mario Diaz-Balart, Lincoln’s brother.
The Congresswoman stressed that she was targeting her rage at Noriega and his deputies from the State Department.
“They were all white men,” she said. “Well, he says he’s not a white man. Whatever. He’s says he’s Mexican-American. I wasn’t questioning who he was. I was saying, ‘You’re all alike. And your racist policy is all alike. You’re anti-Haitian people.’”
One Republican who attended the meeting charged that Brown’s own comments are racist: “Is this the Democrats’ new way of reaching out to Latino Americans?”
A spokesman for Mario Diaz-Balart said the lawmaker felt Brown’s comments were “inappropriate and disappointing,” but he has no plans to ask her to step down.
The confrontation comes at a delicate time in the Haitian crisis. Bush has declared that Haitians trying to make it to America by sea will be turned away.
After the Capitol Hill meeting, Brown joined a delegation of Congressional Black Caucus members who headed to the White House Wednesday night to voice concerns that the refugees are being turned away only because they are of African descent.
“The American policy toward Haiti is racist,” said Brown. “If the Cubans make it to the shore, it’s OK. But Haitians — not one” is welcomed in.
Noting the political unrest in Haiti right now, Brown added, “They are going to be slaughtered unless we intervene.”