Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen (Tenn.) claimed Wednesday that he did not compare Republicans to Nazis during a floor speech this week, but reiterated many of the same points he made in that speech.
In his first television interview since his Tuesday-night speech, Cohen said he does not think most “reasonable people” would construe his words as a direct comparison between Nazis and the GOP.
But he maintained that Republican rhetorical tactics during the healthcare debate have resembled Nazi propaganda.
“I didn’t compare the Republicans to Nazis,” Cohen, who is Jewish, said on CNN’s “John King, USA” program. “I compared the big lie. … It was repeated over and over again. [Nazi propaganda minister Joseph] Goebbels was the master of political propaganda. He said, ‘Repeat it. Make it short. Make it simple and repeat it over and over.’ And that’s what they’ve done.”
The Tennessee Democrat said Tuesday night that Republicans “don’t like the truth, so they summarily dismiss it. They say it’s a government takeover of healthcare. A big lie, just like Goebbels. You say it enough and you repeat the lie, repeat the lie, repeat the lie until eventually people believe it. Like blood libel, that’s the same kind of thing.”
Cohen added that the Nazis’ claims set the table for the Holocaust, which resulted in the killing of 6 million Jews and millions of others.
Cohen’s floor speech drew heavy scrutiny, not only because he invoked the Nazis, but because he did so even with the heightened sensitivity to heated political rhetoric in the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) on Jan. 8.
At least one top Democrat was irked by Cohen’s choice of words. House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (Md.) told Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren that his colleague’s remarks were “over the top.”
“They did not fit the tone and tenor of the debate that I would certainly like to see,” he said.
Asked if his words could incite fringe elements, Cohen said the press “was hypersensitive” to his comments and explained he did not intend to do that.
“I think that people are looking for something. I think the press was hypersensitive,” he said. “Certainly I didn’t intend to do that, but the way they lied has been the same way that the master political propagandist of all time, Goebbels, said to lie.”
Cohen conceded that “it would have been simpler” if he didn’t use the analogy, but maintained that “it doesn’t hurt to remind people” of the supposed parallel.
In an official statement on Thursday, Cohen said that he “regret[s] that anything I said has created an opportunity to distract from the debate about health care” and “that anyone in the Jewish Community, my Republican colleagues or anyone else was offended by the portrayal of my comments.” But he did not apologize for the remarks themselves.