Rep. Bost apologizes for comparing town halls to a 'cleansing' by 'Orientals'

Illinois Congressman Mike Bost was criticized after he compared town hall meetings, which for many Republicans have turned into raucous affairs, to the practice of 'cleansing' by 'Orientals.'

Seth Perlman/AP/File
llinois Rep. Mike Bost argues legislation at the state capitol in Springfield, Ill., in May 2014.

Some Republican lawmakers seem to dread their own town hall meetings, where constituents have started expressing their concerns over President Trump’s choices.

Rep. Mike Bost (R) of Illinois, for example, not only avoided an in-person town hall in his district last week by hosting a "tele-town hall" instead, but to justify it, he compared the rowdy meetings some of his colleagues have experienced to the practice of "cleansing" by "Orientals.”

His use of a derogatory term, which was banned from federal use last year in a bill that he voted for, highlights just how negatively many GOP lawmakers have come to see their town halls in recent weeks.

“The amount of time that I have at home is minimal. I need to make sure that it’s productive,” Representative Bost told the editorial board of the Southern Illinoisan last week. “You know the cleansing that the Orientals used to do where you’d put one person out in front and 900 people yell at them? That’s not what we need. We need to have meetings with people that are productive.”

After he drew heavy criticism for using the term “Oriental,” a now-offensive term to describe people or descendants of east Asia, he apologized on Thursday, saying he “used a poor choice of words” to describe the “coordinated disruptions” he said are taking place across the country.

“While there was no malicious intent, I regret that my words may have distracted from an important point,” Bost said. “When the booing and shouting drowns out the conversation we’re trying to have with our constituents, it becomes that much harder to govern.”

Last year, Bost supported HR 4238, which banned several offensive or outdated terms for minorities from the federal government. The bill received bipartisan support in both houses and was signed into law by President Obama in May. Terms such as “Negro,” “Hispanic,” and “American Indian” were all “modernized” to phrases such as Asian-American, African-American, and Native American.

“Many Americans may not be aware that the word ‘Oriental’ is derogatory,” said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), at the time. “But it is an insulting term that needed to be removed from the books, and I am extremely pleased that my legislation to do that is now the law of the land.”

Bost’s spokesman George O'Connor further clarified his original remarks, saying Bost was referring to the “struggle session” used during China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1950s, in which people were punished through verbal and physical abuse by a crowd, sometimes until their death.

The practice, which has been abandoned for a long time, was often used to target and prosecute intellectuals, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in 1983.

Bost’s remarks appear to resonate with many GOP lawmakers’ complaints about the unruly town halls they have held in recent weeks, where they find themselves facing angry questions from crowds that are unhappy with their handling of Trump’s new administration.

Citing concerns about protesters disrupting such events, a growing number of Republicans, including Bost, are opting for conference calls, the Monitor noted in February.

“The in-person ones going on around the United States right now are out of control, which means you don't actually get to talk to people and listen, and we're looking for ways to do that,” Bost told the Southern Illinoisan’s editorial board.

The board didn't buy it, saying Bost needs to have public conversations, especially about the future of the Affordable Care Act.

“Rep. Bost, the people of your district elected you to lead. There are going to be tough times, precisely like this. The people of your district want to have their voices heard, and doing it over the phone or the internet just won’t do,” the board wrote in an editorial on Wednesday.

“The people of the district deserve a chance to vent.”

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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