Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) must be suffering from whiplash today.
The 79-year-old congressman used the term "wetbacks" to refer to Latino farmworkers in an interview on Thursday, and he received some major blowback for using the racial slur.
The term "wetback" has long been considered derogatory. Its use was first documented in the 1920s and it even surfaced as the name of a major government immigration push in 1954. The controversial program, called "Operation Wetback," sought to round up and deport undocumented migrant workers from Mexico.
Young issued a statement after using the term, saying that he "meant no disrespect." But that wasn't enough to stem the tide of criticism from many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called Young's comments "offensive."
"I don't care why he said it – there's no excuse and it warrants an immediate apology," he said in a statement.
"Shame on Rep. Don Young," said Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas.) "There is no excuse for ignorance. He has served alongside Hispanics in Congress since 1973, so he should know terms like 'wetback' have never been acceptable."
Young's comments only add to the pile of problems he's facing. This month the House ethics committee opened an investigation into allegations that the congressman inappropriately accepted gifts and used campaign donations for personal expenses.
Unfortunately, Young isn't the first politician who has used racially or ethnically insensitive language in the past few years. Here are some others.
Former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.)
At a campaign stop during his 2006 reelection bid, Allen used the term "macaca" to refer to an Indian-American campaign volunteer who was filming the event for the senator's Democratic opponent.
"Let's give a welcome to macaca, here," Allen said
. "Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."
Macaca is a racial epithet against Africans used by some people of European descent. It was later revealed that Allen's mother
was raised in a Jewish family in North Africa and that she had previously hid her heritage from her children.
Allen apologized after the incident occurred.
"I would never want to demean him as an individual," he said, according to the Washington Post
. "I do apologize if he's offended by that. That was no way the point."
The Republican senator, who was once considered as a potential presidential candidate, lost his reelection bid and with it, his hopes for higher office.
Vice President Joe Biden
In 2007, then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) found himself in hot water after he made a racially-charged description
of fellow Democrat Barack Obama, then an Illinois senator.
Biden, who was on the cusp of announcing his presidential campaign, told the New York Observer of his rival Obama: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."
The comment compounded Biden's history of putting his foot in his mouth. In 2006, the senator spoke inappropriately
to an Indian American man in a Delaware convenience store: "In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian-Americans moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking."
Biden's "clean and articulate" comment earned him bipartisan condemnation. His office issued an apology
, saying, "I deeply regret any offense my remark in the New York Observer might have caused anyone. That was not my intent and I expressed that to Sen. Obama."
Obama later told reporters that Biden had called him to apologize and that he believed he "didn't intend to offend" anybody.
Just over a year and a half later, Obama would select Biden as his running mate.
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
Like Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) used racially-insensitive language to describe Obama during the 2008 campaign. But the remarks weren't reported until almost a year after Obama was sworn in as president.
The 2010 book "Game Change," which was authored by reporters Mark Halperin and John Heilemann and chronicled the behind-the-scenes events of the 2008 campaign, said that Reid privately marveled
that Obama was a "light-skinned" black person with no "Negro dialect." Here's the passage from the book:
"He was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama — a 'light-skinned' African American 'with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,' as he said privately. Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama's race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination."
Reid, who backed Obama's presidential campaign, apologized when the report came out.
"I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words," Reid said in a statement. "I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African Americans for my improper comments."
East Haven, Ct. Mayor Joseph Maturo, Jr. (R)
Facing pressure over allegations in 2012 that his police department was racially profiling Latinos, East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo (R) struggled to come up with the right response.
When asked during a local TV interview what he would do for the Latino community in light of the allegations of police harassment, Maturo replied
, "I might have tacos when I go home. I'm not quite sure yet."
Maturo quickly backpedaled and apologized for the comment, but that didn't stop a torrent of criticism from state and local officials as well as Latino groups. Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D) called
Maturo's remarks "repugnant."
One immigrant-rights group decided to have fun amid the backlash against Maturo. Reform Immigration for America had 500 beef tacos
sent to the mayor's office.
State Sen. Jake Knotts (R-S.C.)
In 2010, South Carolina state Sen. Jake Knotts (R) went on a racially motivated tirade against then-gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley (R) and President Obama.
"We already got one raghead in the White House. We don't need another in the Governor's Mansion." Knotts, a Haley opponent, said
during an appearance on an online political talk show.
Video of the rant
that later surfaced showed that Knotts went off on Haley's parents, saying that South Carolina voters would find out "that her daddy wears a turban around Lexington and her mommy has a ruby between her head."
Haley's parents were Sikh immigrants from India, but she later converted to become a Methodist. President Obama is also a Christian.
"Since my intended humorous context was lost in translation, I apologize," Knotts later said in a statement. "I still believe Ms. Haley is pretending to be someone she is not, much as Obama did, but I apologize to both for an unintended slur."
Haley went on to win the GOP primary and won the general election to become South Carolina's governor.