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Contentious moments from US town halls
01:22 - Source: CNN

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A Republican used a racially insensitive term while explaining his opposition to town hall events

He compared town hall events to brutal, sometimes fatal, humiliation sessions in mid-20th Century China

Washington CNN  — 

Rep. Mike Bost said Thursday he regretted invoking a racially insensitive term and reference to explain why he would not hold in-person town hall events.

The Illinois Republican’s comments were reported by The Southern Illinoisan, whose editorial board met with him last week. They discussed his lack of in-person town hall events, and he said such events would be an unproductive use of his time and used the derogatory term “Orientals” in the process.

“The amount of time that I have at home is minimal, I need to make sure that it’s productive,” Bost told the Illinoisan. “You know the cleansing that the Orientals used to do where you’d put one person out in front and 900 people yell at them? That’s not what we need. We need to have meetings with people that are productive.”

Bost told CNN in a statement that he regretted his choice of words for creating a distraction and said there was “no malicious intent.” He also called on people not to disrupt town hall events.

“I used a poor choice of words in describing the coordinated disruptions taking place across the country. While there was no malicious intent, I regret that my words may have distracted from an important point,” Bost said. “When the booing and shouting drowns out the conversation we’re trying to have with our constituents, it becomes that much harder to govern. It’s time for Republicans and Democrats to get back to the point where we can disagree on the issues but give everyone a chance to have their voice heard.”

Following reports of Bost’s comments, William Lo, who identified himself as a Chinese-American constituent from Carbondale, Illinois, reached out to CNN to express his concerns. Lo, who said he manages a Chinese restaurant owned by his parents, said the comments took him back and that Bost’s response to criticism was “kind of an empty statement.”

He said the remarks recalled racially-motivated bullying he had faced growing up and that Bost’s comments were making him rethink his support of the congressman, who he said he had voted for and looked up to.

“Asians are always misrepresented,” Lo said. “People don’t always think of Asians facing racism, but we do.”

Lo, who said he was a Republican, also said the “bigger question” was Bost’s lack of town hall events, adding, “That’s his job.”

Additionally, Dave Trotter, who said he was also from the district and the founder of Indivisible I-57, said Bost’s remark demonstrated “racial insensitivity.”

When he was a member of the Illinois state House, Bost gained national attention after raging during a session on pension reforms where he screamed throughout an impassioned speech, at one point exclaiming, “Enough, I feel like somebody trying to be released from Egypt. Let my people go.”

Bost’s remark compared town hall events in the current political climate to “struggle sessions,” a now-prohibited practice where the Chinese Communist Party under Chairman Mao Zedong had people punished by bringing them before the masses who would rage at and humiliate the person, sometimes until his or her death.

A former member of the Maoist Red Guard told CNN last year: “At the height of the movement in 1968, people were publicly beaten to death every day during struggle sessions; others who had been persecuted threw themselves off tall buildings.”

Since President Donald Trump has taken office, Republicans across the country have faced crowds at their town hall events filled with people expressing anger and concern.

In response to the news, California Democratic Rep. Judy Chu, a Chinese-American, took to Twitter, saying, “‘Orientals’ perpetuates fear of #AAPIs as foreigners & certainly isn’t a good excuse to skip town halls.”

Chu is the chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, which issued a tweet using similar language to Chu.

Last year, the federal government moved to stop using the terms “Oriental” and “Negro” after former President Barack Obama signed the change into law. The bill passed the House without dissent.

Bost was among those who voted in favor of the bill.

At the time, the bill’s sponsor, New York Democratic Rep. Grace Meng, said: “The term ‘Oriental’ has no place in federal law, and at long last, this insulting and outdated term will be gone for good.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified a constituent from Bost’s district. It was William Lo.

CNN’s Ashley Killough contributed to this report.