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McCarthy rejects RFK Jr.'s comments about Covid and race but won't cancel his testimony

A group of House Democrats urged Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan to block Kennedy from testifying before the House.
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WASHINGTON — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Monday he disagrees with “everything” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. reportedly said last week about Covid-19’s being bioengineered “to attack Caucasians and Black people” and about Jewish people’s being "most immune."

But McCarthy, R-Calif., rejected calls by Democrats to cancel Kennedy’s public appearance Thursday before a Republican-controlled House committee. Kennedy, an environmental attorney, has pushed conspiracy theories, some of them about the safety of vaccines.

“I disagree with everything he said,” McCarthy told reporters in the Capitol. “The hearing that we have this week is about censorship. I don’t think censoring somebody is actually the answer here. 

“I think if you’re going to look at censorship in America — your first action is to censor him probably plays into some of the problems we have,” he said.

A group of House Democrats urged McCarthy and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, on Monday to block Kennedy from testifying before the House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, which Jordan also leads.

Kennedy was recorded on video at a New York City dinner discussing “ethnically targeted microbes,” during which, according to a video posted by the New York Post, he claimed that “Covid-19 attacks certain races disproportionately.”

“Covid-19 is targeted to attack Caucasians and Black people. The people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese,” he said in the video. “We don’t know whether it was deliberately targeted that or not.” An overwhelming proportion of American Jews are Ashkenazi Jews.

NBC News has not verified the video. Kennedy said his remarks were not antisemitic.

The Democrats likened Kennedy's comments suggesting that the coronavirus was bioengineered to spare Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people from infection to a technique used by Hitler. They also call on congressional leadership and members of Congress to condemn his comments.

“Mr. Kennedy has repeatedly and recently spread vile and dangerous antisemitic and anti-Asian conspiracy theories that tarnish his credibility as a witness and must not be legitimized with his appearance before the U.S. Congress nor given the platform of an official committee hearing to spread his baseless and discriminatory views,” reads a draft version of the letter, which was shared with NBC News by a source familiar with it who was not authorized to share a version before it is finalized.

The letter is being led by Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, Dan Goldman of New York and Judy Chu of California, with organizing help from Rep. Kathy Manning of North Carolina.

“By promoting the unfounded notion that scientists are developing bioweapons that can target certain races and exempt others, while referring to Jews as a separate race, Mr. Kennedy is employing a pernicious form of antisemitism that has been used for centuries,” the draft says.

“This technique was used by Hitler claiming that there are biological differences between ethnic or racial groups to portray Jews as a lesser form of humanity, a steppingstone to justifying the annihilation of the Jews during the Holocaust,” it says.

Punchbowl News first reported the existence and contents of the letter.

A spokesman for Jordan did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Kennedy, who is challenging President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination next year, will speak about “fighting antisemitism and championing Israel” at an event in New York City next week, his campaign said.

Members of both parties have come under fire for making antisemitic remarks ahead of Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s address to Congress on Wednesday.

Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., faced backlash from both Democrats and Republicans after she called Israel a “racist state” at a progressive conference over the weekend. 

She apologized, but McCarthy piled on Jayapal on Monday and urged Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., to hold people in his party accountable for making antisemitic comments.

“This isn’t the first person in the Democratic conference that has continued to make antisemitic comments.” McCarthy said when he was asked about Jayapal. “I think if they want to believe that they do not have a conference that continues to make antisemitic remarks, they need to do something about it, because they’ve defended these individuals time and again.”

A number of progressive Democrats said they plan to boycott Herzog's speech to lawmakers, including Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman, both of New York.