Under the Dome

Rucho defends controversial tweet

Republican Senator Bob Rucho debates the Voter ID bill during the session at the Legislature on July 24, 2013.
Republican Senator Bob Rucho debates the Voter ID bill during the session at the Legislature on July 24, 2013. cseward@newsobserver.com

Republican N.C. Sen. Bob Rucho was unapologetic Monday after his controversial tweet sparked a firestorm of criticism online, on national television – and even from his state party chairman.

Dismissing critics as “the socialist elite,” Rucho insisted he was making a valid point for a tweet that seemed to compare the Affordable Care Act with Nazis and terrorists.

On Sunday, alluding to the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the law, he tweeted, “Justice Robert’s pen & Obamacare has done more damage to the USA then the swords of the Nazis, Soviets & terrorists combined.”

In a terse statement, N.C. Republican Party Chairman Claude Pope blasted the tweet on Monday.

“The tweet is highly offensive and he should apologize,” he said.

“I have no need to respond to Claude Pope because I don’t owe him and he doesn’t owe me,” responded Rucho. “What I stand on is the truth.”

It’s the latest flap for the eight-term Republican from Matthews, whose passion has sometimes outrun his politics.

Last spring, he bristled when Senate leaders abandoned his ambitious tax overhaul plan for a more modest approach. Rucho tried to resign as co-chairman of the influential Senate Finance Committee and wrote a letter blasting Gov. Pat McCrory and House Speaker Thom Tillis, both fellow Mecklenburg County Republicans.

“It is a huge disappointment,” he wrote, “that (they) did not provide the leadership or have the political backbone to fight the special interest groups.”

Apology sought

Rucho said Sunday’s tweet was referring to the cost of American conflicts. “That was costly,” he said of the wars. “This (health care plan) will be even more costly.”

That’s not how a lot of people read his tweet.

“Unfortunately that’s not how it comes out,” said GOP Sen. Jeff Tarte of Cornelius. “If that’s what he meant he absolutely should apologize.

“Obviously it’s way over the line, and you can’t compare affordable care and policies of the other party to millions and millions of deaths …Anybody that’s a human being on the planet is probably offended by it.”

On Sunday, Rabbi Judy Schindler of Charlotte’s Temple Beth El said comparing the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, to Nazism “is deeply offensive.”

“The systematic murder of 11 million human beings, among them 6 million Jews ... and acts of terrorists using explosives to indiscriminately decimate the lives of men, women and children can in no way be compared to legislation aimed at expanding health care accessibility and quality insurance for the poor,” she said.

National attention

Rucho’s tweet became the buzz of stories from Boston to Sacramento Monday. It lit up Twitter and provided fodder for the blogosphere.

A headline in the blog “Wonkette” read: “North Carolina State Senator hits Nazi-USSR-Terrorist Trifecta of Obamacare Hyperbole.” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews mentioned it on “Hardball” during a segment he called “Sideshows.”

It also became a mobilizing tool. The liberal group ProgressNC Action asked supporters to sign an online petition demanding Rucho apologize.

“Sen. Rucho’s comments are outrageous, but this is exactly the type of theater we’ve come to expect out of him,” Democratic Party spokesman Micah Beasley said in a written statement. “It should be made clear that Sen. Rucho is not some fringe ideologue. Rather, a fixture of Republican leadership in the N.C. Senate.”

Rucho went on his own offensive, speaking to reporters from around the state in defense of his statement. And he had his defenders.

Christian Hine, a tea party leader from Charlotte, posted a message on Rucho’s Facebook page criticizing the health care law.

“It’s a different enemy, one foisted on us by our own government, but the eventual economic damage and the loss of life will certainly compete with our enemies of the past,” he wrote. “We were able to rally as a nation and defeat Nazism and the Soviet Empire. Can we do the same with this disastrous law?”

In Raleigh, it isn’t uncommon for Rucho to engage in verbal jousts with critics. Though he’s relatively new to Twitter, tweeting just 40 times since he started in October, he can also be combative online.

“You have no credibility so stop embarrassing yourself pretending to be intelligent,” he tweeted one critic. “Ignorance is not an excuse for bad behavior.”

Last month, on the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, he tweeted, “JFK could have been the founder and leader of the Tea Party. The real democrat party has been hijacked.”

Of his latest tweet, Rucho said he’s trying to get people to “open their eyes” about the true costs of President Barack Obama’s health care law.

“People that are the socialist elitists that want to make people dependent on government are criticizing me for telling the truth,” he said.

“If the liberal elite can’t stand the truth, that’s their problem not mine.”

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