Southern Missouri Republican Congressman Jason Smith has apologized for an exchange on the House floor Thursday.
According to widely reported accounts, Smith expressed contrition to California Democratic Representative Tony Cárdenas after yelling “Go back to Puerto Rico” while Cárdenas was at the House podium.
A spokesperson for Representative Smith said the comment was directed at 30 Democrats who traveled to Puerto Rico last weekend, not towards any individual. The trip received heavy coverage on conservative media.
Initially, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Democrats believed the comment was a slur aimed at the California Congressman. Cárdenas, who is of Mexican descent, said he was “shocked” because he often heard such comments while growing up in Los Angeles.
Cárdenas later accepted what he called Smith’s “sincere apology” and said he looked forward to working with and getting to know the Missouri Republican in the upcoming months.
Smith’s remark came as the two parties were fighting over a Democratic bill to fund the government through next month. The bill passed on a voice vote, but Republicans claimed Democrats ignored their demands for a roll-call vote. Democrats ultimately rescheduled the vote for next Tuesday.
The trip to Puerto Rico for a reception was organized by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ fundraising PAC which is led by Cárdenas. Republicans had condemned the excursion as a vacation by Democrats during a government shutdown.
Thursday’s exchange on the House floor came during a week when the House, including Republicans leaders, overwhelmingly condemned Iowa GOP Representative Steve King for racist remarks.