On Wednesday afternoon, in the midst of Michael Cohen's hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, two Congress members hashed out differing notions of racism in real time. Video of Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Mark Meadows shows just how contentious the disagreement became, with the committee taking several moments to break down the argument before moving forward with Cohen's testimony. Eventually, Meadows became so upset by the conversation that Chairman Elijah Cummings intervened and Tlaib apologized — but for many others, it seems like the conversation is just beginning.
The argument technically began after the committee break, when Tlaib offered up a response to a moment that had taken place earlier in the hearing: in this moment, Meadows had called up Lynne Patton, who works for the Trump administration. He had Patton, a black woman, stand behind him while he asked Cohen why a black person would ever work for someone who was racist. Patton did not speak.
Addressing that situation later in the day, Tlaib said, "Just because someone has a person of color, a black person, working for them, does not mean they are not racist ... The fact that someone would actually use a black woman as a prop ... is alone racist in itself."
You can watch the video in full below.
After a few moments of back and forth, Tlaib then re-read her original statement and said, "That's what I believe to have happened, and as a person of color in this committee that's how I felt in that moment and I wanted to express that." Tlaib went on to clarify that she was not necessarily calling Meadows a racist. Tlaib continued, "[All] I'm saying is that in itself, it is a racist act."
In response, Meadows said,
Mr. Chairman, there is nothing more personal to me than my relationship ... my nieces and nephews are people of color. Not many people know that ... and to indicate that I asked someone who is a personal friend of the Trump family ... is coming in here as a prop, it's racist to suggest that I asked her to come in for that reason.
Meadows then referenced his own friendship with Cummings, which he said was "not based on color," which Cummings agreed with. Eventually, Tlaib apologized to Meadows and reiterated that she was not directly calling Meadows racist, and the testimony carried on with questions for Cohen.
But the conversation is far from over. Immediately following the altercation, Twitter exploded with commentary about the interaction — namely, regarding Meadows' listing of his relationships to black people as a reason for why he could not be racist. People also referenced an old campaign speech from 2012 in which Meadows said, "2012 is the time we are going to send Mr. Obama home to Kenya or wherever it is.”
Huffington Post reporter Julia Craven weighed in, writing on Twitter,
Still thinking about how Mark Meadows really asked why a black person would work for a racist as if most black folks have ever had another option or the privilege to be picky about employment. The disconnect is wild.
Later on in the hearing on Wednesday, Rep. Brenda Lawrence called out Meadows' behavior, saying, "To prop up one member of our entire race of black people to say that nullifies Trump’s history of racism is totally insulting."
Patton has since spoken about her involvement in the hearing, as well as people's criticism. “Everyone keeps spinning it as ‘tokenism,’ but in my mind, it’s just two people who know the president well and disagree,” she said to The Washington Post. “Just one person’s word against another.” She told the outlet that Meadows invited her to the session the night prior. Earlier on Wednesday, she tweeted that she was proud to attend as his special guest. "I am here in support of
@POTUS and in support of the truth, as Michael Cohen (knows that I know) it to be," she wrote. "And the truth is that it doesn’t take you 15 years to call someone a racist. Unless they’re not one."