Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO) told the House Democratic members holding a conference in Puerto Rico during the government shutdown to “go back.”
A spokesperson for Smith confirmed that the Missouri Republican yelled, “Go back to Puerto Rico!” during a heated exchange on the House floor where members were in the middle of debating on a procedural vote for a Democrat-sponsored bill that would fund the government through February 28.
Smith’s aide said the remarks were aimed at the 30 Democrats who traveled to Puerto Rico this weekend for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Bold PAC winter retreat. Items on the agenda at the conference included meetings on how to address the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and several parties — including one where cast members from Hamilton would be in attendance.
“Congressman Smith’s comment was directed at all the Democrats who were vacationing down in Puerto Rico last weekend during the government shutdown, not towards any individual member,” Joey Brown, Smith’s communications director, told Politico.
But one Democratic House member, Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), took offense at Smith’s comment because his phrase sounded like he was telling Hispanics to “go back where you came from.”
“When people blurt things out like that, it certainly sounds like the old saying, ‘go back to where you came from,'” Cárdenas told the Hill.
“Since I was a little boy I’ve heard that blurted at me many times, but it’s sad that anything even remotely close to that would be said to me on the floor of the House,” he added.
Cárdenas, a California Democrat of Mexican heritage, added that he spoke with Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) following the exchange, asking the Oklahoma Republican to clarify the comments.
“I don’t remember exactly what he said. Markwayne Mullin tried to clarify what was said, and when I asked if he had said it, he didn’t say he did — and I’m not accusing him of saying it — but he kept talking and said, they didn’t mean for you to go back to Puerto Rico, what they meant is go back to Puerto Rico this last weekend.”
Smith later reached to Cárdenas to apologize.
He “took responsibility for the comment and sincerely apologized. I accepted his apology,” Cárdenas said.