House Republicans trotted out every argument they could think of in a failed final effort to block approval of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief package. But, in the case of Wisconsin’s Glenn Grothman, there wasn’t much thinking going on.
The representative simply defaulted into crude racial dog-whistling, causing jaws to drop in a chamber that has heard more than its share of prejudiced pontificating. Grothman’s remarks on Wednesday drew an immediate rebuke from Delegate Stacey Plaskett, (D-V.I.), who earned applause for a searing indictment of the Wisconsinite.
Plaskett’s takedown of her conservative colleague confirmed the former House impeachment manager’s status as one of the chamber’s most witheringly effective debaters. It also highlighted the vital importance of a measure that seeks to address immediate pain and historic injustice.
Republican attacks on the American Rescue Plan during Wednesday’s debate were, for the most part, predictable. The critique was summed up by Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia newcomer who is often characterized as the House Republican Caucus’s most outrageous member, when she dismissed President Biden’s proposal to respond to a pandemic and the economic devastation that has extended from it as the $1.9 trillion “massive woke progressive Democrat wish list.”
But Grothman went to extremes that even Greene avoided.
“First, one of the things that hasn’t been mentioned, the increase in the earned income tax credit for single people has a marriage penalty in it. I bring it up because I know the strength that Black Lives Matter had in this last election. I know it’s a group that doesn’t like the old-fashioned family,” said the congressman, who claimed to be “disturbed that we have another program here in which we’re increasing the marriage penalty.”
Grothman’s allegation about Black Lives Matter was itself so disturbing that it prompted an immediate outcry. Radio host Dean Obeidallah declared, “The GOP does Not even hide its racism.” Wisconsin Ethics Commission member Scot Ross labeled Grothman a “racist prick.”
“Second thing,” he declared, “we have loan forgiveness on farms based on ethnicity. OK. Some people are going to get forgiveness. Some people aren’t. I think that’s incredibly divisive. I think we started out with a divisive inaugural speech right off the bat. And to go down this route is only going to create divisiveness in America.”
Grothman’s apparent attack on an initiative designed to address historic discrimination against Black farmers, in combination with his “doesn’t like the old-fashioned family” claptrap, led veteran broadcaster Soledad O’Brien to tweet, “Racist dude who is an elected official. Call this crap out when you see it.”
That’s exactly what Stacey Plaskett did. The delegate from the Virgin Islands, who as an impeachment manager delivered an indictment of Donald Trump that riveted the nation, had been planning to talk about the merits of the measure. But the former US Department of Justice lawyer put aside her prepared remarks and proceeded to prosecute Grothman for infusing the debate with intolerance.
As the Republican walked away, Plaskett said, “I hope my colleague from Wisconsin will not leave at this time, as he’s talked about Black Lives Matter. How dare you? How dare you say that Black Lives Matter, Black people do not understand old-fashioned families? Despite some of the issues, some of the things that you have put forward that I’ve heard out of your mouth in the Oversight Committee, in your own district, we have been able to keep our families alive for over 400 years.”
Plaskett spoke passionately about “the assault on our families to not have Black lives, or not even have Black families.”
“How dare you say that we are not interested in families in the Black community?” she declared. “That is outrageous—that should be stricken down.”
The delegate’s urgent extemporaneous remarks transfixed the chamber. “I was going to talk about the American Rescue Plan. We know that this is going to provide relief to not only Black lives, Black Americans, but all Americans, that we are interested in children and in their welfare, and at this time I yield back.”
Members erupted in applause as she concluded.
Shortly thereafter, the relief measure was approved on a 220-211 vote.
Grothman, of course, voted “no.”
Plaskett was not permitted to vote. That’s because elected delegates from the Virgin Islands, an “unincorporated” United States territory that is home to more than 105,000 US citizens primarily of Afro-Caribbean descent, are not allowed to participate in House roll calls.
But Stacey Plaskett was heard on Wednesday—loud and clear.