Watts stands by statement Hispanic lawmakers call racially insensitive

Saturday, November 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts said Friday he stood by what he said about two top Democrats, even though several Hispanic lawmakers called the statement racially insensitive.

Reps. Robert Menendez and Ciro Rodriguez demanded Watts, R-Okla., apologize for criticizing several congress members for making an official visit to Mexico instead of remaining in Washington.

In his statement, Watts, the only black Republican in Congress and a member of the House GOP leadership, said the Senate had a lot of work to do, and now wasn't the time ``for the Democratic leadership to be skipping town when a pile of appropriations, an economic growth package, judicial nominees, an energy plan and a host of other issues sit idly in the hopper.''

``So what heavy lifting will the top two leaders of the party be doing starting tomorrow? Como se dice (how do you say) `going to Mexico?'''

Watts also included the phrases ``ay caramba'' (ah, shucks) and ``no siesta'' (no sleep) for Democrats in his statement.

It was those phrases that drew complaints from Menendez, D-N.J., and Rodriguez, D-Texas.

Menendez described Watts' comments as ``patronizing at best, and racist at worst.''

``In an irresponsible statement, J.C. Watts managed to insult and belittle the fastest-growing minority population in the United States and our important and valued neighbor to the south.''

Rodriguez accused Watts of using ``ethnic slurs'' and showing a complete disregard for the foreign policy priorities of his own party and president.

Watts stood by his statement, saying, ``No one should lecture me about racial insensitivities.

``My statement was not about Mexico, and I think that's clear. ... My statement was about Democrat leaders' double standard in skipping town at a critical point when we were working to do what's right for the American people.''