Rep. Allen B. West took to the airwaves Monday to defend former House Speaker Newt Gingrich against charges from a top Democrat that Mr. Gingrich used racist "code words" to fuel his double-digit win over the weekend in the South Carolina Republican primary.
Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, one of the top-ranking Democrats in the House, and black activist Al Sharpton have been sharply critical of Mr. Gingrich's repeated references to President Obama as "the food-stamp president."
But Mr. West, a tea party conservative who is the first black Republican elected to Congress from Florida since 1873, said Mr. Gingrich's description of the president is accurate.
"What is really appalling and disgusting and despicable is that you have people such as, unfortunately, my colleague, Mr. Clyburn, and the charlatan Al Sharpton who all of a sudden now want to create a schism and try to hide away from the fact that the unemployment rate in the African-American community is 15.8 percent," the freshman congressman said in an interview Monday on The Washington Times-affiliated "America's Morning News" radio program.
"This has nothing to do with race," Mr. West said. "This is about them trying to spin it. But this president is failing all Americans."
Mr. West, a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army who served in Iraq, also appeared Monday morning on "Fox and Friends" to defend Mr. Gingrich.
"There is no 'race code.' It's a fact. Since President Obama has been in the Oval Office, you've seen a 41 percent increase in food-stamp recipients in the United States of America. We have a president that is making more Americans victims than victors," he said.
In an interview on CNN over the weekend, Mr. Clyburn said he wasn't calling Mr. Gingrich a racist, but said the Republican candidate was using racist language.
"All of this carries certain connotations that people know very very well," Mr. Clyburn said. "I'm saying he's appealing to an element in the party that sees Obama as different that any of the other presidents that we've had."
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