Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) ripped GOP Sen. Ron Johnson on Tuesday after the Wisconsinite suggested that he would be more afraid if Black Lives Matter protesters, not Donald Trump supporters, had stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
In a floor speech, Menendez described Johnson’s remarks as a “hurtful,” “racist” and a “stain” on his office.
“I get that no one likes to be called racist, but sometimes there’s just no other way to describe the use of bigoted tropes that for generations threatened Black lives by stoking white fear of African Americans — and Black men in particular,” Menendez said.
In an interview with conservative radio host Joe Pags on Thursday, Johnson said that he wasn’t concerned about the pro-Trump mob that descended on the Capitol to try to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory. But Johnson said that he “might have been a little concerned” if Trump had won the election and “those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters.”
The Jan. 6 insurrection left five people dead and more than 100 police officers injured, prompting one of the largest investigations in the Justice Department’s history. Johnson’s remarks on the radio sparked an immediate backlash from Democrats, including lawmakers from his home state. But the Wisconsin Republican insisted this week that his comments were not about race.
In an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal Monday, Johnson wrote that it was “sadly predictable that liberals would hurl the accusation of racism.”
“This isn’t about race,” he wrote. “It’s about riots.”
During his floor speech, Menendez proceeded to read an e-mail he said he received from a Black congressional staffer who described Johnson’s comments as “worse than the image of the insurrectionists walking through the Capitol building with a confederate flag.” The staffer’s email, as read by Menendez, said Johnson’s comments were the “most painful thing” he’d ever heard from a senator.
Menendez suggested that Johnson may be “ignorant” of the pain he caused but called on Republican and Democratic senators to “hold ourselves to a higher standard.”
This week isn’t the first time that Johnson has tussled with Democrats over race. In 2014, then-Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) accused the Republican of opposing the Affordable Care Act because President Barack Obama was the “wrong color.” Johnson retorted that Rockefeller’s comments were “offensive” and accused him of playing “the race card.”