By Cristina Marcos - 06-22-17 13:22 PM EDT
The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus accused Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who's faced criticism in the past for racially charged comments, of bias stemming from "white privilege."
King was offering an amendment to legislation considered in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that speeds up the return of unaccompanied immigrant children to their home countries if they haven't been subject to human trafficking and aren't at risk of persecution.
King's amendment would require the Justice Department to report to Congress on crimes committed by the unaccompanied immigrant children following their release from Department of Homeland Security custody.
He began citing statistics comparing the violent death rate in El Salvador to the homicide rate in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), who represents New Orleans and leads the Black Caucus, quickly interrupted.
"We're going to lose all civility in this committee if he thinks it's appropriate to compare New Orleans to Guatemala," Richmond said.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) tried to be diplomatic. "The gentleman from Iowa has the right to make a statistical comparison between two locations," he said.
But Richmond said it was inappropriate for King to compare New Orleans, which has a large African American population, to a country in Central America where people are fleeing violence.
"It's not appropriate. It's insensitive. And it's nothing more than traditional white privilege of 'let me criticize a minority city,'" Richmond said angrily.
"If the gentleman persists on it, then let's go in the back and have the conversation about New Orleans," he added. "If it takes walking across over there, then I'm prepared to do that, too."
Richmond noted that lawmakers had been calling for more political civility in the wake of last week's shooting at the GOP baseball practice, emphasizing that "words and actions have consequences."
Goodlatte defended King's right to compare the statistical data.
"Words have consequences. So do statistics, and so do arguments. This is the place to do it under the rules of the House," Goodlatte said, yielding back to King.
King suggested that Richmond "remove himself from the room if he can't restrain himself."
Goodlatte stopped King, telling him "that remark is not appropriate."
"The issue of whether or not the gentleman can be here or not is his business, not yours," Goodlatte said.
King then resumed his remarks, declaring that "I will not be intimidated by this kind of thing. It's important that we look at data."
King has faced pushback in the past for inflammatory, racially charged remarks.
In March, he came under fire for tweeting in support of nationalist Dutch politician Geert Wilders. "We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies," King wrote.
And in 2013, King suggested that many young undocumented immigrants were drug mules.
"For everyone who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert," King told Newsmax at the time.