Josh Mahony, the Democratic candidate challenging U.S. Rep. Steve Womack for the Third Congressional District seat, issued a statement accusing Womack of playing “dog whistle politics” after Womack’s comments yesterday that referred to “depraved countries.”
As noted on the blog yesterday, Womack, attempting to explain controversial statements reportedly made by the president, told 40/29 News that “if you’re only appealing to people from countries that are behind the times, depraved countries, if that’s the element you’re appealing to … we should make the same or a better appeal to people from other European countries that can come in here and actually fit into the society as we know it.”
Here’s Mahony’s blistering response:
Northwest Arkansas is home to a growing and productive immigrant community. Today, Steve Womack basically defended Donald Trump’s racist remarks about immigrants from “sh**hole countries.” Womack piled on by calling those countries “depraved” and that we should make better appeals to European countries, which is code for “less brown and more white immigrants.” Steve Womack is trafficking in racist comments and playing dog whistle politics.
In a meeting with lawmakers on immigration Thursday, President Donald Trump reportedly referred to Haiti and certain African nations as “shithole countries” and complained that the nation should focus more on recruiting Norwegians. This has been confirmed on the record by Sen. Dick Durbin, among others. Durbin was in the room, as was Sen. Tom Cotton. Cotton suffered a memory lapse and says he can’t recall. Trump issued a meek pseudo-denial on Twitter, but there is little doubt at this point that he made the statement (the White House did not deny the report Thursday despite staffers being in the room; Trump himself reportedly made calls to friends and advisers to gauge reaction to his comments and argued that he was simply saying what many people think).
Trump lies a lot and as far as I can tell not even his allies are attempting to regurgitate his “not the language used” denial. But some have attempted to defend Trump referring to impoverished nations as “shithole countries,” and his apparent preference for immigrants from Europe and distaste for immigrants from Haiti or Africa. Womack is in the latter camp, ironically saying that Trump should vet his words more carefully, but defending Trump’s underlying message. Here again are his full comments:
I try to look beyond the exact words he uses. I wish he would choose his words differently and more carefully and vet those.
What I think the president is saying is that if you’re only appealing to people from countries that are behind the times, depraved countries, if that’s the element that you’re appealing to, and of course a lot of those folks are wanting to come to America and pursue the American dream, then he feels like that we should make the same or a better appeal to people from other European countries, et cetera, that can come in here and actually fit into the society as we know it and do the kinds of things that will make America a prosperous nation.
The D-G this morning offered the theory that Womack perhaps meant to say “deprived” rather than “depraved,” but Womack has thus far not issued any further comment, clarification, or response. The Mahony campaign isn’t buying that word-slip possibility. Who knows. I think the tell here is later in the quote. Womack and Trump have strong feelings about who “can come in here and actually fit into the society as we know it.” They are skeptical that Haitian immigrants qualify.
Trump’s “shithole” defenders point to the suffering in places like Haiti. Leaving aside the U.S.’s own role in Haiti’s plight, this seems to miss the context of Trump’s comments entirely, which Womack’s own contextualizing helpfully spotlights. The meeting was about immigration policy. Trump wasn’t offering a discourse on suffering in Third World countries, he was offering an opinion about people who wish to emigrate to the United States: “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.”