Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) is taking heat from the left over a compliment he recently gave to a Korean-American judge that some are calling a subtle example of racism.
After hearing her background story during a Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, Grassley, 88, applauded Lucy Koh, a judge nominated by President Joe Biden to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, for her "hard work ethic," the Des Moines Register reported. Little did he know that his commendation would be fuel for leftist outrage.
"What you said about your Korean background reminded me a lot of what my daughter-in-law of 45 years has said: 'If I've learned anything from Korean people, it's a hard work ethic. And how you can make a lot out of nothing,'" the Iowa senator said. "So I congratulate you and your people."
"Thank you," replied Koh, who has served as a district judge for the Northern District of California since 2010. With her appointment to the federal appeals court, she will become the first female Korean-American federal circuit judge in U.S. history.
Not long after, Grassley's comments were picked up by some in the media and the barrage was underway.
"Even as a compliment, assigning any trait to a whole community is the definition of prejudice," Democratic Rep. Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, tweeted.
"Treating all members of a group as the same invites mistreatment. It may not be the same incitement to violence seen in other slurs, but is harmful nonetheless," she argued.
John C. Yang, the president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, added in a statement that "while we understand the intent of Sen. Chuck Grassley's comment, stereotypes — even seemingly benign ones — ultimately harm and create divisions within communities. Hard work is a shared ethic among many Americans from different cultures and races, not only Korean Americans," according to the Washington Post.
In a column for NBC News, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee adviser Kurt Badella characterized Grassley's words as "racist" and argued that "even the implication that one race is superior to the other is a gateway to violence and oppression."
"I don't care what his intentions were. I don't care if he thinks what he said was a compliment. It wasn't. Ideally, this moment would be cause for some reflection — but at minimum, he owes Judge Koh an apology," he added.
In response to the backlash, the senator's office issued the following statement to the Des Moines Register: "Sen. Grassley's intent was to be complimentary, not to insult anyone. Chairman Durbin invited Judge Koh to share the inspiring story of her family's immigration to the United States. Sen. Grassley shared that he has similarly been inspired by the immigration story of his daughter-in-law, who is also Korean-American."