A Friday argument between two House Democrats over the merits of the Puerto Rico debt crisis legislation ended with one of them suggesting the other had accepted a double-standard for "brown people" in financial crises.
The exchange took place in the Speaker's Lobby outside the House chamber, when Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., told Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., that the control board established by the House bill would cost $370 million. Clay, who voted for the bill when it passed on Thursday, countered that the island needs to get its finances in order.
"Brown people always gotta get their finances in order," said Gutierrez, who voted against the legislation. Clay, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, frowned and drifted away.
The Missouri Democrat told the Washington Examiner that he "didn't hear" Gutierrez's closing remark. "I didn't hear all that," he said with a laugh. "I heard him say something about Flint, Mich., and those are two different situations. Flint was a city. We're talking about an entire island nation ... He says a lot, but I didn't catch that."
Clay also defended the use control board to help Puerto Rico stabilize its finances.
"My understanding was in the mid-90s, Washington, D.C. was put under a control board and they were able to come out of it with their finances intact and in order," he said. "It was effective. They had to instill some discipline in their finances. And apparently, they haven't been too disciplined [in Puerto Rico] to this point to get into the billions in debt and to jeopardize those pension funds of the workers on that island and to have their economy in tatters. They need some kind of direction."
Gutierrez confirmed that he made the remark in a follow-up interview, although he said he was "absolutely not" suggesting Clay had any racial motivations for supporting the control board. He reiterated that Congress was wrong not to provide a cash infusion to the troubled island.
"Everything is 'get your finances in order,'" Gutierrez told the Examiner. "When other people have issues and problems, the Congress of the United States contributes to the resolution of them."