Crane’s use of ‘colored people’ in House debate brings swift condemnation

Rep. Eli Crane, R-Oro Valley, said he misspoke when he used the term “colored people” during debate on the House floor, and he tried to change the record to make it “people of color.” But critics were not swayed, calling his words “racist and repugnant.” (Photo by Lillie Boudreaux/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Reactions to Arizona Rep. Eli Crane’s use of the term “colored people” during a House floor debate Thursday ranged from “utter shock” to suggestions that it was a “dog whistle to white nationalists.”

What the reaction did not include was much defense for the freshman Republican from Oro Valley, who said he misspoke during a debate over his proposal to prohibit the Defense Department from teaching or requiring adherence to “race-based or ideological concepts.”

Crane, who unsuccessfully asked Thursday to amend his words to “people of color,” was not available for an interview Friday. But his office issued a written statement.

“In a heated floor debate on my amendment that would prohibit discrimination on the color of one’s skin in the Armed Forces, I misspoke,” the statement said. “Every one of us is made in the image of God and created equal.”

But Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, who was on the other side of the floor debate Thursday, called Crane’s speech “racist and repugnant.”

“I am still in utter shock and disbelief that a Republican uttered the words ‘colored people’ in reference to African-American service members who sacrifice their lives for our freedom,” Beatty said in a tweet.

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Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said Friday that he was glad Crane took back his words, but that doesn’t negate the impact of those words – or the amendment Crane was advocating.

“This integrated military needs to be reflected in diversity at all levels. And so everybody is aware, and everybody fully understands, that’s what he was after. That’s what he was trying to stop,” Grijalva said. “And I think that you know, all you do is it’s a dog whistle to white nationalists.”

The remark came during debate on Crane’s proposed Protection of Ideological Freedom amendment to the Pentagon budget. The amendment, which subsequently passed, “prohibits DOD from considering race, gender, religion or political affiliations or any other ideological concepts as the sole basis for recruitment, training, education, promotion or retention decisions.”

While defending his amendment, Crane, a veteran, said the military “was never intended to be, you know, inclusive. Its strength is not its diversity, its strength is its standards. Diversity can be a great thing but that should not be our focus.”

Beatty, noting scores of Republican amendments on everything from abortion to diversity, said it was “very difficult as a Black woman for me to stand on this House floor and have my colleagues say that there is no value, there is no need for diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Crane said his amendment has “nothing to do with whether colored people, or Black people, or anybody, can serve,” but was aimed at ensuring that “our military does not become a social experiment.”

Beatty immediately asked that Crane’s “offensive and inappropriate language” be stricken from the record. Even though Crane tried to backtrack after Beatty called to have his words stricken, critics were not forgiving Friday.

Charles Fanniel, the president of the Arizona state conference of the NAACP, said “shame on him,” particularly in “this day and time when race relations are so fragile right now and there’s so much division and hatred.”

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“You know, when you get young people like him, especially an elected official … this same type of ideology and mindset is certainly frightening,” Fanniel said. “It’s not welcoming, you know, it’s just like you’re still stuck in yesteryear.”

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he believed that Crane misspoke, but added Friday that the stricken language was “not acceptable.”

The Congressional Black Caucus called the moment “shameful” and “unconscionable” in a tweet Thursday, and said Crane should apologize to Beatty. The Arizona Democratic Party said in an emailed statement Friday that voters “will hold Representative Crane accountable on the ballot in 2024.”

But Rodd McLeod, an Arizona political campaign strategist, said the moment is unlikely to affect Crane’s chances in 2024, in his Republican-leaning, rural 2nd District, which covers much of northeastern Arizona.

“It’s a very tough district for a Democrat to win, the way the district was drawn,” he said.

“It went from being a, you know, a swing district to a lean-Republican district,” McLeod said. “So unfortunately, he might be in a situation where he’s got to behave however he wants, you know, he’s going to be OK.”

Lillie Boudreaux lihl-iy boo-droh (she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Lillie Boudreaux expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in global studies. She was a social justice reporter at the Cronkite News Washington, D.C., bureau and a 2023 White House Correspondents’ Association scholarship recipient. She has interned at Al Arabiya News and the Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations. She also worked as a reporter for ASU News and on the Arizona PBS digital team.