BENTONVILLE — Some Democrats and opponents who plan to run against 3rd District Republican Congressman Steve Womack of Rogers criticized him after he tried to defend President Donald Trump’s recent reference to immigrants from “shithole” countries.

Three days after getting the backing of House Republicans to take over as chairman of the House Budget Committee, Womack fielded questions from a Northwest Arkansas television newscast about the president’s remark regarding immigrants from several nations. According to the video from the website of KHBS/KHOG in Rogers, Womack said in part:

“I wish he [the president] would choose his words differently and more carefully and vet those, but I try to look beyond those statements and just get to the root of what he is saying. And what he is saying is, we need to do a better job of attracting people into our country that will be part of the solution to the American challenge right now. How do we make America great again?

“And so what I think the president is saying in short is that if you are only appealing to people from countries that are behind the times, depraved countries, if that’s the element you are appealing to — and of course a lot of those folks want to come to America and pursue the American dream — then he feels we should make the same or better appeal to people from other European countries etc. that can come in here and actually fit in to the society as we know it and do the kind of things that will make America a prosperous nation.”

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Requests for comment and clarification — for instance, whether he meant “deprived” instead of “depraved” — and a response to Democratic criticism of his remarks weren’t received by early Friday evening.

Josh Mahony of Fayetteville is Womack’s only announced Democratic opponent so far. Mahony released this statement early Friday afternoon, with asterisks in the original:

“Northwest Arkansas is home to a growing and productive immigrant community. Today, Steve Womack basically defended Donald Trump’s racist remarks about immigrants from ‘sh**hole countries.’ Womack piled on by calling those countries ‘depraved’ and that we should make better appeals to European countries, which is code for ‘less brown and more white immigrants.’ Steve Womack is trafficking in racist comments and playing dog whistle politics.”

The chairman of the state Democratic Party, Michael John Gray, issued a statement shortly thereafter. It read in part:

“The Republican Party is better than what we’ve seen from its leaders over the past 24 hours. What Representative Womack said today was racist and quite frankly embarrassing for the people of Arkansas’ 3rd District. I’ve spent enough time in that area of the state to know that the 3rd District is full of good, decent people — people far above Representative Womack’s words today. They know how to treat their neighbor with decency and respect. The people of northwestern Arkansas deserve a leader who reflects its people’s decency.”

Womack also has a Republican primary opponent, Robb Ryerse of Springdale.

“This is precisely the type of thing that has me running for Congress,” Ryerse said Friday evening. The president’s remarks were disturbing, he said, but watching Womack not so much disagree with those comments but wish the sentiments had been expressed more tactfully is unacceptable, too.

Another announced opponent, Michael Kalagias of Rogers, from the Libertarian Party, said the remarks were offensive but recent actions are worse.

“Trump saying horrible things and Womack defending them is bad, but there are other things we should pay more attention to,” Kalagias said, such as recently renewed authority for spying and increases to the deficit.

A Section on 01/13/2018

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