Republican Rep. Jason Lewis has repeatedly demeaned recipients of welfare and government assistance, calling them “parasites” and “scoundrels,” and said the black community had “traded one plantation for another.”
Lewis made the comments on a conservative radio show he hosted, “The Jason Lewis Show,” from 2009 to 2012. CNN’s KFile previously reported that Lewis made racist comments about African-Americans and lamented not being able to call women “sluts” on his program.
The Minnesota congressman’s extreme rhetoric in his previous job, which he described as rooted in libertarianism, also included calling the part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that applied to private businesses “unconstitutional” as well as calling the Americans with Disabilities Act “one of the worst” laws and suggesting that it might be the cause of workplace shootings. He also said religious freedom laws didn’t “go far in enough in allowing discrimination.”
CNN’s KFile obtained the audio recording from MinnPost columnist and former deputy chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota Michael Brodkorb, who previously posted some comments from Lewis’ show in a column in February 2016. KFile contacted Brodkorb after seeing his 2016 column and requested raw audio files of Lewis’ show, which he provided.
“CNN is free to focus on past rhetoric instead of Congressman Lewis’ record in Congress, and they will no doubt continue to ignore the substance of the arguments, but it does little to add to the debate,” Lewis’ spokeswoman Becky Alery told CNN.
Lewis was narrowly elected to represent Minnesota’s 2nd District in 2016 and is considered one of the most endangered House Republicans in the midterm election. CNN rates the race as a “toss up,” the most competitive designation.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that he doesn’t support Lewis’ prior comments, but said Lewis is different as a lawmaker than he was as a “shock jock.” He would not call on him to apologize.
On his radio show in September 2012, Lewis explained why he thought then-President Barack Obama was leading Mitt Romney in election polls, saying Democrats were supported by “parasites” on government assistance.
“I’m trying to explain to you how President Barack Obama could be in the lead in some of these polls. When the economy is flat on its back. When you and I see the welfare state in all of its wonderful manifestations and yet he’s still leading in Ohio, he’s still leading in Florida. How is this possible? It is possible because the Democratic dream come true is this: The parasites outnumber the producers. Then, when the parasites outnumber the producers, the party of parasites will give the majority of votes.”
Lewis made his comments on the day a video was released which showed then-candidate Romney saying that nearly half of Americans would vote for Obama because they rely on the government.
Lewis defended Romney, saying, “Mitt Romney’s in trouble because he said on a tape that Obama voters are dependent on government? Excuse me, excuse me? You’re damn right they’re dependent on government and that’s the strategy of the socialist left since day one. It is to get everybody on a government program.”
“His only error was he probably guessed too low,” Lewis would later say.
In the same September 2012 episode, Lewis said that Democratic voters were on government aid, calling them “unpatriotic” and “scoundrels” looking for more government handouts.
“The government class, the Obama voters, as Romney correctly says in this breathtaking new audio, who are dependent on government, are selling out the country. They are unpatriotic, they’re scoundrels, they are selling out my generation and your generation and your children’s generation, so they can get their benefits today,” Lewis said.
“The idiot voters out there, those who are dependent on the government, addicted to the government and they can rip off their neighbors by voting for Al Franken,” he added, referring to the then-Democratic senator from Minnesota. “They don’t understand they’re ripping off themselves.”
In another episode, Lewis compared being on welfare to being enslaved, arguing that the welfare state had “substituted one plantation for another.”
“It is hard to overestimate the damage – go back to Martin Luther King and the struggle for black equality – where blacks, in our sorry history, I mean, this really is a blemish on the American dream or the American experience – blacks fought so hard, indeed, and alongside a number of whites, thankfully, who fought so hard so blacks could take care of themselves and not be told what to do,” Lewis said in April 2012. “Now, you’ve got the modern welfare state that tells black folks and Hispanic folks and poor white folks: ‘Don’t worry. We’ll take care of you.’ What is the difference? You’ve substituted one plantation for another.”
Lewis’ rhetoric wasn’t limited to just government assistance. Lewis also pushed an extreme view on laws like the the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
During a September 2011 broadcast, Lewis spoke to a black caller who criticized Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential candidate, for voting against the Civil Rights Act, which led Lewis to defend Goldwater and argue that of parts of the law were unconstitutional.
“Nobody – and besides, The Civil Rights Act of 1964, nobody — I frankly do think there are portions of it that were unconstitutional depending on your view of, of private contracts,” Lewis said, before going on to criticize parts of the act that banned discrimination in private businesses and organizations.
“The administration could not constitutionally get that by any court in the country based on the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, the Equal Protection clause, the part of the Civil War amendments that said, ‘no state shall discriminate or deny someone equal protection of the law.’ Now nobody’s opposed to that including me, Goldwater or anybody else, and certainly you, but that applied to what the state did. It did not apply to private discrimination.”
In another episode on a 2015 podcast, Lewis criticized desegregation busing. He made his comments when predicting that, in the future, neighborhoods would have racial quotas.
“If you live in a neighborhood that zones one acre lots, well that keeps out too many Hispanics, that’s got to be discriminatory,” Lewis said, “We’re going to sue you and they’re amassing this database to literally enforce forced housing. You thought forced busing was bad. You ain’t seen nothing.”
In a similar vein, Lewis criticized the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. In a September 2012 broadcast, he compared it to Jim Crow.
“Now the government determines who you shall hire, who you should work next to, and when you’re going to be thrown in jail or fined civilly for refusing to employ or serve or do whatever the government says you ought to do,” Lewis said. “The irony of this is the last time we tried this was during Jim Crow when the government used to mandate segregation.”
Lewis went on to say that the law was one of the worst.
“The economy is stifled under an anarchy of laws of rules; Dodd Frank, Obamacare, the EPA, environmental laws, OSHA, you name it, not to mention antidiscrimination laws, and the ADA is one of the worst.”
Later, in the same episode, Lewis continued to criticize the Americans with Disabilities Act, and blamed the law for an increase in workplace shootings.
“Because of the ADA, we have eviscerated the notion of fair play and in the process in these workplace shootings, I have the temerity today, the audacity, to suggest that that is partly responsible for these workplace shootings. In every single instance, the person had a history of mental, mental illness, something set them off and they go bonkers and kill people. So why did we not screen those people out?”
Lewis’ comments blaming the law for mass shootings came in response to news of a workplace shooting earlier in the day in Minneapolis that left six people dead.
In a blog post, written on his personal website in 2015, Lewis argued that Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act didn’t go far enough in allowing private discrimination.
“There’s only one thing wrong with Indiana’s (or anyone else’s) Religious Freedom & Restoration Act (RFRA): it doesn’t go far in enough in allowing discrimination,” he wrote. “That is, why should you have to invoke a religious exemption in order to freely determine with whom you want to associate? I might not want to hire you because your ‘lifestyle’ (gay or straight) violates the tenants of my company’s religious beliefs (the Supreme Court upheld Hobby Lobby’s decision not to offer contraceptives for the same reason), but I also might not want to employ you because your ears are large. The former is protected by RFRA, the latter is not. Why?”