Tancredo, Illinois rep trade racism accusations
By M.E. Sprengelmeyer, Rocky Mountain News
March 17, 2006
WASHINGTON - Rep. Tom Tancredo and an Illinois congressman traded charges of racism during a heated confrontation following a televised appearance on immigration reform, their congressional offices confirmed Thursday.
Tancredo, R-Colo., is a leading advocate of tougher enforcement of laws affecting illegal immigrants and those who hire them.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., the son of Puerto Rican parents, calls Tancredo's approach an "ugly policy" motivated by racism.
On Wednesday, they appeared together on CNBC. But when the cameras stopped rolling, the debate continued with a spat first reported by the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.
Gutierrez's office said Tancredo aggressively continued the discussion off camera and tried to slow Gutierrez as he tried to reach an elevator.
Tancredo spokesman Will Adams, who was present, said Gutierrez was the aggressor.
There was little dispute about the words exchanged, however, as recounted by Roll Call:
At one point, Gutierrez reportedly asked Tancredo if he had ever eaten in a restaurant.
"How could you eat from the plates touched by those nasty illegal immigrants?" Gutierrez said.
He then asked Tancredo, "Have you ever eaten an orange? A grape?" - an apparent reference to illegal farm workers.
He then repeated the phrase several times as Tancredo tried to answer: "An orange, a grape, an orange, a grape, an orange, a grape."
Gutierrez, who has a cast on a foot, reportedly walked toward an elevator, but Tancredo tried to stop him by putting his hand on his shoulder. Gutierrez reportedly demanded: "Get your hand off me!"
Adams said Tancredo had done little more than tap him on the shoulder.
Gutierrez said to Tancredo: "You racist! You bigot!"
Tancredo told Gutierrez: "You look in the mirror if you want to see a racist."
Gutierrez and staff members finally got on the elevator, while Tancredo and his team took the stairs.
When they met again on the first floor, Gutierrez told his staff, "Better hurry up - the KKK is coming," according to Roll Call.
Gutierrez accused Tancredo of following him, although Adams said they needed to use the same exit because Tancredo's office is across the street.
Just outside, Gutierrez said to aides within Tancredo's earshot: "I thought about hitting him, but then I thought, 'What if I (expletive) kicked his ass,' " the newspaper reported.
Asked if Tancredo wanted an apology, Adams said, "It would be nice if he apologized. We're not expecting that from somebody who threatens to beat people up."
Asked if Gutierrez wanted an apology, spokesman Scott Frotman said, "He's not going to ask Mr. Tancredo for an apology, but Mr. Tancredo may think about apologizing to all the immigrants that he scapegoats and ridicules."