WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Congressman Allen West on Tuesday refused to back away from earlier remarks to constituents in Florida that dozens of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives were communists.
The freshman Republican who is backed by conservative Tea Party activists was asked at a forum whether he had second thoughts about calling the 78 members of the House Progressive Caucus communists.
"I don't regret it whatsoever," said West, who is facing a tough race for re-election in November.
"There is a very thin line between communism, progressivism, Marxism, Socialism ... it's about nationalizing production, it's about creating and expanding the welfare state. It's about this idea of social and economic justice," said the retired military officer.
West first talked about Progressive Caucus Democrats being communists in response to a constituent's question last week at a town hall meeting in his Florida district.
His remarks sparked comparisons to the 1950's "red scare" rhetoric of then-Senator Joseph McCarthy who launched investigations into claims that communists had infiltrated the government.
Progressive Caucus co-chairmen Representatives Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison issued a statement at the time accusing West of polarizing the country. They had no further comment following West's remarks on Tuesday.
West also has turned the controversy into a fundraising pitch to fellow conservatives asking them for their help and repeating his belief that members of the Progressive Caucus were akin to communists.
(Reporting by Donna Smith; Editing by Jackie Frank)