Congressman Steve Womack, posing for his official portrait. Womack opposes immigration reform, and has regularly run against it. (Photo : US House of Representatives)
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., was caught on video that went viral making patronizing remarks about clothing to one of his constituents at a town hall meet last week, bringing out a non-apology apology from the congressman about the spirit of his comments.
At the town hall, the constituent - whose name is difficult to understand in the video- identifies himself as a Mexican-American from Fort Smith, Arkansas. Speaking with unaccented English, the young man, who is wearing a Mexican-flag colored polo shirt, describes having two Mexican parents and questions if Rep. Womack sees any hope for immigration reform to help create a pathway to citizenship for the eleven million undocumented residents of the United States.
Rep. Womack gave a thoughtful, polished response about the rule of law and respect for due process in America, ultimately concluding he didn't support such a measure. After the crowd applauded, he pivots his answer to the personal attack on the young man's dress.
"It does strike me as a bit odd that I would get a question as to why we shouldn't just automatically make it legal for people who didn't come here in a legal circumstance, with a flag of another country hanging around his neck," Rep. Womack said, drawing cheers from the audience.
"This is just some good old friendly advice. If you want to win friends and influence people on the issues that you are talking about, I would suggest a little different approach in terms of my attire when I'm appealing to an audience like this," he added.
Arkansas's 3rd Congressional District, which Rep. Womack represents, is one of the most conservative districts in the country, and Republicans have held it since 1967. Womack's response to the question represents the problem facing the Republican-controlled House of Representatives as immigration reform advocates attempt to pass comprehensive reform measures. A bipartisan immigration bill passed the senate earlier this year.
According to an article by New York Magazine, Latinos represent the largest demographic group that defected from the Republican Party in 2012. Following the 2012 election, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus gave a candidly pessimistic assessment of the party's shrinking electoral support, and encouraged Republicans to co-lead - rather than resist - comprehensive immigration reform.
As for YouTubers, the response they gave to Rep.Womack's comments was decidedly mixed.
"If he is so proud of Mexico and wears the Mexican flag - and so proud of his heritage, why doesn't he move to Mexico?" asked Anna Olsen.
Others saw the question as inherently flawed.
"Congress is Filled with idiots!" user Sheila Bryant declared.