Hoyer: 'I Don't Think TEA Party Is Racist'; But House Dem Leader Not Sure 'Who the TEA Party Is’

By Jane McGrath | July 20, 2010 | 5:54 PM EDT

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Md., participate in a news conference on small business jobs and credit act, Wednesday, June 16, 2010, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(CNSNews.com) - House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that he does not think that the Tea Party is racist, but admitted that he also does not know “who the Tea Party is.”
At his weekly pen-and-pad news conference at the Capitol, CNSNews.com asked Hoyer whether he agreed with Vice President Joe Biden’s comment over the weekend that he does not believe the Tea Party is racist.

Hoyer replied: “The Tea Party, per se, I don’t think is racist.”
However, the Democratic leader added: “There are obviously, as I said on Sunday [on CNN’s “State of the Union”], I have seen some virulent racist tracts, which I believe are harmful to the public discourse and inconsistent with America’s values. You’d have to ask the Tea Party whether they agree with those or not. I mean, I don’t even know who the Tea Party is, number one.”
The Tea Party is a grassroots movement that began in February 2009 in the wake of President Obama’s inauguration and grew out of CNBC financial commentator Rick Santelli’s on-air call for a “Tea Party,” just days after Congress passed the $787 billion economic stimulus bill. “TEA” is an acronym that stands for “Taxed Enough Already.”
The stimulus legislation, formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, sparked a string of protests against excessive government spending and high taxes. It has also helped to propel several candidates focusing on fiscal responsibility into the running for the 2010 midterm congressional elections. By February 2010, one year after it began, the Tea Party organized its first convention.
However, on July 13, delegates of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) passed a resolution condemning the Tea Party for alleged racist elements in the movement. The NAACP Web site reports that the “resolution came after a year of high-profile media coverage of attendees of Tea Party marches using vile, antagonistic racial slurs & images.”
Hoyer reiterated that he did not think the Tea Party is racist.
“But the answer to that question is -- and I think Joe Biden essentially said the same thing in a slightly different way -- but I don’t have any reason to believe the Tea Party itself is racist,” Hoyer told CNSNews.com.
Hoyer also commented on an Iowa billboard put up by the North Iowa Tea Party earlier this month. The billboard pitted an image of Obama with the words “Democrat Socialism” in between images of Adolf Hitler with “National Socialism” and Vladmir Lenin with “Marxist Socialism.”
The billboard also read -- “Radical leaders prey on the fearful and naïve.” After sharp criticism, including from some others in the Tea Party movement, the billboard was quickly taken down.
“The billboard that appeared and was taken down by the Tea Party – that was a Tea Party billboard – I think this billboard has been taken by some to accuse [those] with whom they don’t agree as Marxist or Nazis or Stalinists or something of that nature,” Hoyer said. 
"I think that’s not useful or helpful to the public debate. There may be differences of opinion about how to get from where we are to where we want to be. (Texas Republican Congressman) Pete Sessions says that we need to go back to the agenda that we think failed. That’s a debate that we ought to have – whether to go back to the failed Bush agenda, or we go forward with an agenda that is working to create jobs.”
When a reporter asked a follow-up question about whether he had “concerns" about the "Tea Party Caucus,” the majority leader said simply, “We’ll see how many Republicans join the Tea Party caucus and see whether or not they want to adopt the Tea Party agenda.”