McConnell, when asked, fails to denounce racist 'replacement theory'
Democrats say Republicans and cable pundits have spread the racist ideology.
As Democrats have ratcheted up condemnation of "replacement theory" in the wake of Saturday's mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, some Republicans on Capitol Hill have shied away from rejecting the racist idea that some members of their own party have espoused.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked repeatedly about his views of "replacement theory," a conspiracy theory that holds that Democrats are trying to replace white Americans with undocumented immigrants and people of color in order to win elections.
He repeatedly avoided denouncing it outright.
McConnell was asked whether he, as the party leader, had a responsibility to speak out against the theory, which authorities say was adopted by the 18-year-old white man accused of killing 10 Black people at a local food market.
He responded by denouncing the actions of the suspect, calling him a "deranged young man," but making no mention of "replacement theory."
Pressed again by reporters on whether the Republican Party is obligated to denounce the theory, McConnell condemned racism generally.
"Look -- racism of any sort is abhorrent in America and ought to be stood up to by everybody, both Republicans, Democrats, all Americans," McConnell said.
He then was asked whether he believed that Democrats are seeking amnesty for undocumented immigrants for the purpose of influencing and changing the electorate. He responded by criticizing the Biden administration's policy at the southern border.
McConnell's comments Tuesday came as the Senate GOP conference hosted Ohio Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance, who has used language similar to the theory on multiple occasions.
Vance secured the GOP nomination during Ohio's primary race earlier this month after a late endorsement from former President Donald Trump, who has supported multiple Republicans who echo the theory's main points, if not its outright racist basis.
In a March 17 appearance on Fox News, according to the news monitoring site Mediaite, Vance told Fox News host Tucker Carlson that Democrats are intentionally creating a surge in undocumented immigration.
"You have to ask yourself who is benefiting from this and who is getting rich from it? First of all Chamber of Commerce-style Republicans and Democrats who love the cheap labor who love the fact that these immigrants are displacing America's workers but also Democrat politicians who have decided that they can't win reelection in 2022 unless they bring in a large number of new voters to replace the voters that are already here," he said.
Vance's campaign declined to comment to ABC News and he did not answer a barrage of reporter questions as he left the Senate GOP luncheon.
McConnell was not the only Republican leader to avoid calls to denounce replacement theory Tuesday.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, House GOP Conference Chair, has faced renewed criticism in recent days for her campaign ads echoing replacement theory. Her campaign released a statement about the attack, and another from her senior adviser calling the focus on the ads a "disgusting low for the left, their Never Trump allies and the sycophant stenographers in the media."
When pressed by reporters, Stefanik didn't respond directly, saying she didn't want to make the Buffalo shooting political.
"Our nation is heartbroken and sad and of the horrific loss of life in Buffalo. This was an act of pure evil and the criminal should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Stefanik said. "It is not the time to politicize this tragedy. We mourn together as a nation."
Republican reticence to reject replacement theory comes as President Joe Biden traveled to Buffalo on Tuesday and in a speech called on Americans, to "reject the lie" and condemn those "who spread the lie for power, for political gain and for profit."
Later, speaking to reporters, Biden declined to name names but was blunt when asked if he thinks members of the Republican Party, and cable news pundits like Fox News host Tucker Carlson, deserve blame for violence.
"I believe anybody who echoes a replacement is to blame not for this particular crime, but it's for no purpose, no purpose, except profit and or political benefit," Biden said. "And it's wrong. It's just simply wrong,"
Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has gone further, calling out Fox News and pundits like Carlson by name.
Schumer penned a direct appeal to media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, his son, and the heads of Fox News Tuesday urging them to "to immediately cease all dissemination of false white nationalist, far right conspiracy theories on your network."
Invoking massacres with racial motivations in Pittsburgh and El Paso, Schumer wrote about his Buffalo constituents, saying that they'll "be forced to relive this tragic event every single time they visit the supermarket for a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk" —- asking that Fox take into consideration the very real impacts of the dangerous rhetoric…"
Carlson has denied that discussing what he claims is a political matter is racist.
A spokesperson for Fox pointed to a comment Carlson made on his show earlier this week regarding the Buffalo shooting. Carlson, she said, called the shooter "racist" and "immoral" and "called for a de-emphasis of racial tensions and working toward a “colorblind meritocracy” adding “all people have equal moral value, no matter what they look like” and quoted Martin Luther King, Jr."
She did not directly address Schumer's letter.
The shooting has revealed a divide in the Republican ranks. While McConnell and Stefanik have fallen short of denouncing "replacement theory," others have been outspoken on condemning it.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., had no qualms about rejecting the theory outright.
"Oh, it's ... an outrageous theory. I totally reject it as any reasonable discussion to be had."
Blunt, who is retiring, is from a state where two GOP politicians have openly espoused the racist theory.
On Monday, GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, whose role as GOP conference chair was usurped by Stefanik, called her colleagues out directly in a tweet.
"The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism," Cheney tweeted. "History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse. @GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them."
"Despite sickening and false reporting, Congresswoman Stefanik has never advocated for any racist position or made a racist statement," Alex DeGrasse, a senior adviser to Stefanik, said in a statement. "The shooting was an act of evil and the criminal should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," he added.
ABC News' Ben Siegel, Lalee Ibssa and Trish Turner contributed to this report.