Yesterday, ThinkProgress interviewed Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA), who defeated incumbent William Jefferson to represent Louisiana’s second district, which includes New Orleans. Cao came to the United States from Vietnam when he was eight, after the fall of Saigon, and is the first Vietnamese-American to serve in Congress. ThinkProgress asked Cao to respond to a 2007 quote by shock jock Michael Savage about political refugees’ inability to assimilate:
SAVAGE: We’re getting refugees now who have never used a telephone, a toothbrush, or toilet paper. You’re telling me they’re going to assimilate? They will never assimilate. They come here and they bring their destitute ways to this country, and they never assimilate. And then their children become gang-bangers. It is a disaster.
Cao pointed out that when he arrived in the United States, he had never used a toilet or toilet paper either. “But I have assimilated, and assimilated well, I believe,” he said. He said that the Republican party must not tolerate rhetoric and ideas that mirror Savage’s, which he called “racist” and “repulsive”:
CAO: You know, the Republican party should not have those kinds of views that you just conveyed. A statement like that would be very anti-immigrant, almost to me borderlining to almost being racist, if you ask me. So I take that statement as being quite repulsive, if you ask my opinion. So I hope that the GOP will not tolerate those kinds of views and will not take those positions.
Unfortunately, extreme, anti-immigrant rhetoric is not confined to right-wing radio; Many of Cao’s fellow Washington Republicans have made similarly inflammatory statements:
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN): Part of that is this whole idea of multicultural diversity, which on the face sounds wonderful. … But guess what? Not all cultures are equal.
Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA): There is quite a large number of people that are coming across the border that are of Middle Eastern origin as well as Asian origin. A lot of these are single, they have no families. I don’t think they are coming here to cut our grass or work in our chicken plants.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL): If there are no jobs people will go home. They won’t continue to go here. Now a lot of ‘em wouldn’t go home; you’d have to round them up.
Rep. Steve King (R-IA): We could also electrify this wire [on the border fence] with the kind of current that would not kill somebody, but it would simply be a discouragement for them to be fooling around with it. We do that with livestock all the time.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL): The numbers [of immigrants] cannot be too great, or it takes jobs from Americans and can, in fact, create cultural problems that wouldn’t occur if it was a little slower.
As one of the few non-white representatives in the Republican party, some conservatives — including Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) — are looking to Cao as the future of the party.
CAO: First of all, when I first came [to the United States], I never used a toilet. There were no toilets in Vietnam, there were no toilet papers back in Vietnam. We used water. So I would fall into the category that whoever stated quite well. But I have assimilated, and assimilated well, I believe.
You know, the Republican party should not have those kinds of views that you just conveyed. A statement like that would be very anti-immigrant, almost to me borderlining to almost being racist, if you ask me. So I take that statement as being quite repulsive, if you ask my opinion. So I hope that the GOP will not tolerate those kinds of views and will not take those positions.