RFK Jr. defends himself at House hearing as Dems rebuke him for COVID and race comment

Del. Stacey Plaskett said Kennedy had spread "idiotic, bigoted messaging."

July 20, 2023, 1:06 PM

Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on Thursday appeared before a House subcommittee to testify at a hearing on censorship -- but it was his past comments that drew sharp rebuke from Democrats as Kennedy sought to defend himself.

Testifying in front of the GOP-led House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on alleged government "weaponization," Kennedy denied that he is racist or antisemitic following comments that leaked over the weekend where he cited a false conspiracy theory that COVID-19 was "targeted to" certain ethnicities while Chinese people and Jews of European descent were more immune.

Kennedy told the committee that he had "never uttered a phrase that was either racist or antisemitic" and, despite repeatedly spreading conspiracy theories and misinformation on public health issues in the past, insisted that he was not anti-vaccination.

"I'm subjected to this new form of censorship, which is called targeted propaganda, where people apply pejoratives like 'anti-vax.' I've never been anti-vaccine," he argued. "But everybody in this room probably believes that I have been because that's the prevailing narrative."

Kennedy's testimony comes after 102 Democratic representatives signed a letter earlier this week opposing his appearance before the panel, citing his comments that were recorded on video and published by The New York Post on Saturday, during what the paper described as a press dinner in New York City last week.

In the video obtained by the Post, Kennedy can be heard making a series of false and misleading claims, including saying, "We don't know whether it [COVID-19] was deliberately targeted or not, but there are papers out there that show the racial or ethnic differential and impact."

"There is an argument that it is ethnically targeted," specifically against Caucasian and Black people, Kennedy can be heard saying in the video.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential Robert F. Kennedy Jr. stands to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at a House Judiciary Select Weaponization of the Federal Government Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 20, 2023.
Democratic presidential Robert F. Kennedy Jr. stands to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at a House Judiciary Select Weaponization of the Federal Government Subcommittee hearing, examining the Missouri v. Biden case, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 20, 2023.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Health officials worldwide have determined the virus disproportionally killed some groups of people not because of their race but because of underlying health inequities.

The hearing became contentious at times, with spirited back-and-forth between committee members and some pointed comments directed toward witnesses that included Kennedy; Emma-Jo Morris, the journalist who authored the initial, controversial 2020 New York Post story about Hunter Biden's laptop; Dr. John Sauer from the Louisiana Department of Justice; and Maya Wiley, the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

U.S. Virgin Islands Del. Stacey Plaskett, the ranking member on the subcommittee, blasted Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the subcommittee's chair, Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, for allowing Kennedy to testify in the wake of his recent COVID-19 remarks.

"They intentionally chose to elevate this rhetoric to give these harmful, dangerous views a platform in the halls of the United States Congress," Plaskett said. "That's endorsing that speech. That's not just supporting free speech. They have co-signed on idiotic, bigoted messaging."

"It's a free country. You absolutely have a right to say what you believe," Plaskett said. "But you don't have the right to a platform, public or private. We don't have to give one of the largest platforms of our democracy -- Congress, this hearing. Our right does not mean that we as Americans are not free from accountability."

Kennedy, however, said, "The First Amendment was not written for easy speech. It was written for the speech that nobody likes you for."

Following Kennedy's opening statement, Plaskett attempted to move the committee into executive session -- which failed in a party-line vote -- while claiming Kennedy was in violation of committee rules because he "has repeatedly made despicable antisemitic and anti-Asian comments as recently as last week."

Earlier this week, McCarthy said of Kennedy, "I disagree with everything he said. The hearing that we have this week is about censorship. I don't think censoring somebody is actually the answer here."

Democratic presidential Robert F. Kennedy Jr. testifies at a House Judiciary Select Weaponization of the Federal Government Subcommittee hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 20, 2023.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

In his testimony, Kennedy claimed that other Democrats were seeking to silence him based on his views.

"I've spent my life in this party. I've devoted my life to the values of this party," he said. "This -- 102 people signed this. This itself is evidence of the problem that this hearing was convened to address. This is an attempt to censor a censorship hearing," Kennedy said.

"I'm a Democrat. And I believe in all that. If you went through a checklist of all of the things my father believed in, that he fought for, that my uncle believed and fought for, I would check every box," he said, referring to the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy. "I feel my party has departed from some of those core values. And one of the reasons that I want to run for president is to reclaim my party."

The anti-Kennedy letter from Democrats was initiated by Reps. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Florida and Dan Goldman of New York, who are Jewish, and California Rep. Judy Chu, who is Chinese American.

"If you think I said something that's antisemitic, let's talk about the details," Kennedy maintained in his testimony. "I'm telling you, all the things that I'm accused of right now, by you and in this letter, are distortions, they're misrepresentations."

The hearing waded into some other aspects of Kennedy's candidacy, including his attacks on vaccines and misleading claims about COVID-19 and what he thinks about government censorship as it could relate to election interference.

Kennedy insisted that he is "fully compliant with the vaccine schedule myself, except for COVID. I took flu vaccines for 20 years straight."