FACT CHECK: Did A GOP Congressman Criticize A Puerto Rico Congresswoman’s Accent?

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

Twitter users criticized Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers recently, claiming that he made a bigoted remark about the accent of Puerto Rico Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón at a congressional hearing.

“Dear Racist GOP Rep Mike Rogers,” read one tweet. “You’re from ALABAMA – ya’all have an accent!”

“Uh….Mike Rogers clearly has an accent,” read another tweet. “I can identify that accent. He is clearly from racists.”

“Right…. So when is Rep Mike Rogers going to stop talking?” asked one tweet. “I hate his accent. You know, not just Southern but racist and condescending.”

Verdict: False

The Alabama congressman was poking fun at his own accent and that of his Southern colleague. The remark was not directed at González.

Fact Check:

During a House hearing on lessons learned from the 2017 hurricanes, Rogers was allowed time to ask a panel of federal and state officials about emergency preparedness.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Long, good to have you here. It’s refreshing to finally have a witness who doesn’t have an accent before this committee,” said Rogers.

He made the remark immediately after González had spoken, leading some to question the timing of the comment.

“Why is @RepMikeRogersAL saying the following, ‘It’s refreshing to finally have a witness that doesn’t have an accent before this committee,’ right after @RepJenniffer of #PuertoRico speaks,” tweeted the news site Latino Rebels.

González, a Republican colleague, defended Rogers, saying that she did not think he was making fun of her accent.

“What @RepMikeRogersAL was clearly referring to was @FEMA_Brock ’s enunciation, which like Rep.Rogers’, is considered by many people to be a Southern drawl. It was a light-hearted bit of humor and I appreciated it,” tweeted González. “Rep. Rogers was not being negative about any accent.”

Rogers directed the remark at FEMA administrator Brock Long, who once served as director of emergency management services in Alabama. “I have known Brock a long time in Alabama and actually had breakfast with him and my colleagues before the Homeland Security Full Committee hearing last week,” Rogers wrote in a statement posted on Twitter.

He says that, in context, the remark was clearly meant to tease Long for his Southern accent. “It is crystal clear that it was a joke directed at Brock because he and I both have similar accents from the South. A joke that we are the ones that don’t have an accent and everyone else does,” he tweeted.

Rogers’ office says that the operative word in his comment was the word “witness.”

“When you read the actual transcript of what Mike said, he said it’s refreshing to have a witness who doesn’t have an accent,” Chief of Staff Christopher Brinson told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

González had been invited to the hearing as a guest member, but she was not a witness. None of the witnesses who spoke before Rogers’ remark were of Latino descent.

Politico posted a clip from the hearing that was widely shared by journalists and commentators, but the news outlet has since taken down the video. “A video of Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), mistakenly published on March 16, has been removed because his remarks about a witness’ accent were not in reference to Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón, as the headline had suggested,” it wrote.

Rogers’ office says that his quip about accents is a “dad joke” that he makes several times a week. As evidence, his staff provided TheDCNF with a partial transcript of remarks Rogers made at a Washington, D.C. conference on nuclear deterrence in 2015.

“I’m going to be the first speaker without an accent this morning,” he teased in his speech.

The conference was co-hosted by a delegation from North Dakota (the state is home to Minot Air Force Base, which maintains part of the U.S. nuclear arsenal). As a result, most of the speakers who came before Rogers were from North Dakota.

“When I came here I didn’t know they were going to have foreign language speakers before me,” he joked.

The Air Force Association, which co-sponsored the event, provided TheDCNF with a copy of the agenda from that morning, which included talks from North Dakota Rep. Kevin Kramer, North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven and North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (none of whom are actually “foreign language speakers”).

The only other guests who gave speeches before Rogers were Retired Gen. C. Robert Kehler and Vice Adm. Terry Benedict.

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor

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