Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) went there first.
“Would you agree that someone could deny rental units to African-Americans, lead the birther movement, refer to to the diaspora as ‘shithole countries,’ and refer to white supremacists as ‘fine people,’ have a black friend, and still be racist?” she asked Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, during his testimony before the House Oversight Committee.
“Yes,” he answered.
Pressley was referring to a stunt that her colleague Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) pulled earlier in Wednesday’s hearing. In an attempt to prove that Trump is not “racist,” as Cohen charged, he used black Trump employee Lynne Patton as a literal prop. How can the president be racist, he asked, if he has hired this one black woman?
But things took an even more dramatic turn a few minutes later when Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) raised the issue once more during her turn at the microphone.
“Just because someone has a person of color, a black person working for them does not mean they aren't racist,” Tlaid said. “And it is insensitive, and some would even say that the fact that someone would actually use a prop, a black woman, in this chamber, in this committee”—here she took a heavy sigh—”is alone racist in itself.”
This did not sit well with Meadows, whom Tlaib had essentially said acted in a “racist” manner in her remarks. The Republican congressman interrupted her, demanding that her words be stricken from the record. “I’m sure she didn't intend to do this, but if anyone knows my record as it relates… it should be you, Mr. Chairman,” he said, seemingly unable to include the word “race.”
Tlaib insisted she did not intend to call her colleague a “racist” and after Meadows informed the committee that his nieces and nephews are “people of color” and proceeded to say it was “racist” to suggest he was using the Trump employee as a prop, House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) ultimately came to Meadows’ defense.
Calling Meadows one of his “best friends,” Cummings said, “I don't think Ms. Tlaib intended to cause you that kind of pain and that kind of frustration.”
“To my colleague, Mr. Meadows, that was not my intention,” Tlaib said. “And I do apologize if that’s what it sounded like. But I said ‘someone’ in general.”
“As everybody knows in this chamber, I'm pretty direct,” Tlaib, who entered Congress amidst controversy over her use of the word “motherfucker” to describe Trump, continued. “So if I wanted to say that I would have, but that's not what I said.” She added, “I was not referring to you, at all, as a racist.”
Meadows accepted her apology, but not everyone watching was satisfied.
One popular sentiment was summed up by the rapper Talib Kweli, who tweeted, simply, “Fuck that apology.” And others pointed out that despite Meadows protesting that he cannot possibly be racist, he once said during a campaign that “2012 is the time we are going to send Mr. Obama home to Kenya or wherever it is.”