Florida Republican Allen West, said on Tuesday that as many as 81 Democratic members of Congress are communists. His statement was in response to a question: “What percentage of the American Legislature do you think are card-carrying Marxists?”
Politico reports that in a statement that reminded many Americans of Joe McCarthy's 1950s hunt for communists in the Legislature, the Tea Party favorite answered the question before a crowd at a town-hall meeting in Jensen beach, Florida, saying; “That’s a fair question. I believe there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party."
Then he added after a pause: ”They actually don’t hide it. It’s called the Congressional Progressive Caucus.”
But when he was asked to name them, he declined.
According to Politico, West's office on Wednesday said the congressman stood by his comments. Tim Edson, a spokesman for West, said: “He stands by his words. But the words the media needs to pay attention to are the words of the members of the Progressive caucus. They speak for themselves. Call it what you may, but these House members are clearly not proponents of capitalism, free markets or individual economic freedom.”
NY Daily News reports West's office referred to a May 2010 article on health care featured in the Communist Party USA pre-convention publication that said the Progressive Caucus and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., were allies of the party but not members. NY Daily News notes, however, that the article carried a disclaimer saying the Communist Party USA "takes no responsibility for the opinions expressed in this article or other articles in the pre-convention discussion."
Reps Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Keith Ellision, D-Min., co-chairs of the caucus, have reacted to West's claims. The two, in a statement, said: "Allen West is denigrating the millions of Americans who voted to elect Congressional Progressive Caucus members, and he is ignoring the oath they took to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution - just like he did. Calling fellow members of Congress 'communists' is reminiscent of the days when Joe McCarthy divided Americans with name-calling and modern-day witch hunts that don't advance policies to benefit people's lives."
The statement said that West, "repeatedly polarizes the American people instead of focusing on their interests. When people like Rep. West have no ideals or principles, they rely on personal attacks."
NPR notes that there is no record of any member of the House, whether Democratic or Republican, belonging to the Communist Party. According to NPR, the Progressive Caucus is a group of liberal Democrats with 75 house members and one member from the Senate, Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders is an independent from Vermont. He is the only member of the Congress who identifies as a socialist.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) was founded in 1991. The caucus says its goals are to promote "economic fairness, civil rights, environmental protection, energy independence and global security."
ABC News reports West's comment went viral online and "Allen West" became a trending topic on Twitter on Wednesday.
ABC News reports Libero Piana, vice-Chairman of the national Communist Party, said West's comments were a "sad ploy." Piana said: “I just think it’s an absurd way to cast a shadow over his colleagues. It’s just guilt by association taken to an extreme.”
NPR comments that West has gained reputation during his 16 months in Congress for "making bombastic statements." According to NPR, he once compared President Obama to a "Third World" dictator, and said the Nazi Propagandist Joseph Goebbels, would be "very proud" of the Democratic Party. He also once described Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz, "the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the U.S. House of Representatives."
Palm Beach Post reports West also criticized President Barack Obama at the Florida meeting. He said Obama was “scared” to have a discussion on oil drilling and tax cuts.
According to Palm Beach Post, West said:
“I really wish that, standing here before you, was Allen West and President Obama. We could have a simple discussion. But that ain’t ever gonna happen.”
“Why not?” someone asked.
West answered: “Cuz he was too scared!”