US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell lambasted a liberal group on Saturday for criticizing the Asian heritage of his wife, former US secretary of labor Elaine Chao (趙小蘭), calling its Twitter messages “racial slurs” and “the ultimate outrage.”
McConnell forcefully defended Chao, who was born in Taiwan and who moved to the US as an eight-year-old with her family aboard a freight ship.
“They will not get away with attacking my wife in this campaign,” McConnell told about 100 supporters at a Republican dinner in Winchester, Kentucky.
“This woman has the ear of @McConnellPress — she’s his [#]wife,” the group Progress Kentucky tweeted on Feb. 14. “May explain why your job moved to [#]China!”
Progress Kentucky removed the offending comments from Twitter after Louisville public radio station WFPL-FM aired reports about them. The group issued two apologies over the past weeks for what they described as “inappropriate tweets sent by our organization.”
“Elaine Chao is just as much an American as any of the rest of them,” McConnell said. “In fact, she had to go through a lot more to become an American.”
McConnell’s aides had already criticized the tweets.
“[Former] Secretary Chao and her family are shining examples of the American dream: salt-of-the-earth folks who escaped oppression, came here with nothing, joined our great melting pot, worked exceptionally hard to build a thriving business and then dedicated so much of their lives to giving back,” said Jesse Benton, the manager of McConnell’s re-election campaign.
“It is unconscionable that anyone would use blatant race-baiting for political gain,” Benton added.
Progress Kentucky executive director Shawn Reilly released a statement posted on the group’s Web site saying: “Those tweets did not reflect our values and we are committed to making sure nothing like that happens again.”
He said the volunteer who posted the comments no longer is affiliated with the group.
Criticism of the group was not limited to McConnell and his supporters. Several Democratic leaders, including actress Ashley Judd — who is considering a challenge to McConnell in next year’s election — spoke up too.
“Whatever the intention, whatever the venue, whomever the person, attacks or comments on anyone’s ethnicity are wrong & patently unacceptable,” she wrote in a Twitter message.
Kentucky Democratic Party chairman Dan Logsdon said the comments were “deplorable” and “have absolutely no place” in Kentucky politics.
McConnell and his wife have faced similar slights in the past.
In 2001, former state Democratic Party chairwoman Nikki Patton gave an apology for saying that McConnell “passed up some good Kentucky pork to chow down at the Chinese money buffet.”