Republicans use debunked lie to attack hurricane relief efforts

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The false claim was based on conservatives taking the vice president’s comments about the Biden administration’s racial injustice policy out of context.

Prominent Republicans are falsely claiming that Vice President Kamala Harris supports distributing relief from Hurricane Ian based on race, taking something she said on Sept. 30 out of context to do so.

Harris was interviewed by actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas at the Democratic National Committee's Women's Leadership Forum. Chopra Jonas asked Harris about the Biden administration's policies for addressing issues of climate change and environmental justice following recent natural disasters such as Hurricanes Ian and Fiona.

Harris said, "We have to address this in a way that is about giving resources based on equity, understanding that we fight for equality, but we also need to fight for equity, understanding that not everybody starts out at the same place."

Several conservatives have falsely characterized Harris' comments, stating that they were specifically about the administration's planned federal aid response following Hurricane Ian, which made landfall in Florida on Sep. 28 and continued to impact the state over the next few days. The storm caused at least 109 deaths and millions of dollars in damage.

Nandita Bose, a White House correspondent for Reuters who attended the event as a pool reporter, said those characterizations were inaccurate. "So I was the only WH pool print reporter in the room on Friday at the DNC Women's Leadership Forum and heard the remarks from @VP on climate change and Hurricane Ian, which I see are being deliberately distorted," Bose tweeted on Oct. 3. Bose tweeted Chopra Jonas's question and Harris' response in their entirety.

Journalism fact-checking site PolitiFact reviewed the claims and rated them "false" on Monday, declaring, "No, Kamala Harris didn't say Hurricane Ian relief would be based on skin color."

Still, since she made her remarks, multiple Republican lawmakers have promoted the false characterization.

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) claimed Harris' comments were "incredibly racist" in an appearance on Fox News on Oct. 2.

In an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation" that same day, Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) said, "Harris said yesterday that – or the day before yesterday – that, you know if you, if you have a different skin color, you're going to get relief."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) shared a tweet posted by an account called End Wokeness that misrepresented Harris's comments Sunday as well and added, "The federal government should not be racist in delivering disaster relief. This did not used to be a controversial statement."

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis told Fox News' Sean Hannity that evening, "I think she's trying to play identity politics with a storm and a natural disaster and I think it's ridiculous."

In a campaign speech, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) told a crowd of voters, "As a guy who's felt the sting of racism, that's the last thing I ever want to do is to do that to someone else."

In addition to interviews with Republicans, conservative network Fox News aired multiple segments further mischaracterizing what Harris had said. Other conservative outlets, including the Daily Caller, the Daily Wire, the New York Post and Newsmax, also promoted the false narrative.

The right has criticized Harris based on false or misrepresented information before. In February 2021, Cruz claimed that Harris had "urged the violence to continue" during protests against racial injustice during the summer of 2020, when she had in fact supported the protests themselves while vocally discouraging violence.

The Biden administration has enacted policies aimed at addressing racial injustices that were left unaddressed or worsened under the administration of former President Donald Trump.

Republicans and conservative media have repeatedly attacked the Biden-Harris administration for doing so, repeatedly promoting unverified evidence or deceptively edited videos or ignoring the existence of racism.

Trump was repeatedly criticized for praising and supporting racists, such as when he said in a speech that the crowd of neo-Nazis and white supremacists that gathered to rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 included "fine people." His administration included multiple officials with connections to the white supremacist movement, such as Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. He enacted a ban on entry to the United States for people from Muslim-majority countries and referred to majority non-white nations as "shithole" countries.

By contrast, on his first day as president, Biden signed an executive order on "advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities." The administration has included considerations for racial equity in policy, such as the recent establishment of the first office for environmental justice and civil rights within the Environmental Protection Agency.

Along with the Democratic majorities in Congress, the Biden-Harris administration included provisions to address past racial injustices in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Despite complaints and opposition from Republicans, the new law recently funded over $100 million for a project to reconfigure a Michigan highway that cut a thriving black community in half in the 1960s when it was first constructed.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.