UPDATED: 5:00 p.m.
Alaska Republican Congressman Don Young issued an apology Friday afternoon after taking heat from his Republican leadership for referring to Latino farm workers as “wetbacks” in an interview with an Alaska public radio station Thursday
“I apologize for the insensitive term I used during an interview in Ketchikan, Alaska,” he said in a statement. “There was no malice in my heart or intent to offend; it was a poor choice of words. That word, and the negative attitudes that come with it, should be left in the 20th century, and I’m sorry that this has shifted our focus away from comprehensive immigration reform.”
Earlier in the day, Speaker John Boehner had demanded an apology from Young for the comments. ”Congressman Young’s remarks were offensive and beneath the dignity of the office he holds,” Boehner said in a statement. “I don’t care why he said it–there’s no excuse and it warrants an immediate apology.”
Young did issue an apology Thursday night, in which he explained why he used the term, without directly apologizing for it. “I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect,” Young said in a follow up statement.
Boehner’s reaction is the strongest heard yet from any of Young’s fellow Republicans. The Republican Party is in the midst of a outreach campaign after its 2012 “autopsy” report discovered that many minority voters feel that the party “does not care about them.”
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus denounced Young’s remarks as well.
“The words used by Representative Young emphatically do not represent the beliefs of the Republican Party,” he said in a statement. “As I have continued to say, everyone in this country deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Our party represents freedom and opportunity for every American and a beacon of hope to those seeking liberty throughout the world. Offensive language and ethnic slurs have no place in our public discourse.”
Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn reprimanded Young for the tone and political implications. “Migrant workers come to America looking for opportunity and a way to provide a better life for their families,” he said according to Politico. “They do not come to this country to hear ethnic slurs and derogatory language from elected officials. The comments used by Rep. Young do nothing to elevate our party, political discourse or the millions who come here looking for economic opportunity.”
Texas Democratic Congressman Ruben Hinojosa is blasted Young for his comments as well. “Shame on Rep. Don Young,” he said in a statement. “It is deeply disheartening that in 2013 we are forced to have a discussion about a member of Congress using such hateful words and racial slurs.”
Hinojosa added that there’s “no excuse for ignorance.”
“He has served alongside Hispanics in Congress since 1973, so he should know terms like ‘wetback’ have never been acceptable,” the statement reads. “As the Republican minority outreach efforts develop, I’d advise their strategists to list “don’t say racial slurs like ‘wetback’ ” as a bedrock for their messaging.”