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Tipsheet

Congressional Candidate Jay Chen Laughably Claims He Isn't Racist Against Rep. Michelle Steel

Facebook, California Democratic Party

The race to represent California's 45th Congressional District has gotten ugly in recent weeks, as Democratic candidate Jay Chen has made racist remarks toward Rep. Michelle Steele, a Republican who was born in South Korea. As I covered previously, Chen has made remarks such as how "you kind of need an interpreter to figure out exactly what she's saying," and that Steel is "incoherent." The DCCC has stood by Chen, who is himself the son of Taiwanese immigrants, and who has doubled down on how he wasn't being racist towards Steel. 

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Chen wrote an opinion column for The Orange County Register that was published on April 25, "I didn’t mock Michelle Steel’s accent."

The outlet had also published a piece by Steel, "Jay Chen should know better than to mock immigrants like me," from April 15.

In case the title of his column isn't indication enough that Chen did not apologize, he instead tries to justify his remarks. In fact, Chen places the onus on the congresswoman, for "lying." As he says in his piece:

Immigrants like my mother and father, like so many across Orange County and this nation, have encountered obstacles only to rise above them and enrich the lives of their communities in turn. I cherish my immigrant heritage because it has made me who I am today, and I know the dangers of prejudice because I have encountered it firsthand.

That’s why I was shocked to see Congresswoman Michelle Steel, my opponent in the race to represent California’s 45th Congressional District, fuel right-wing disinformation and falsely accuse me of mocking her accent.

...

Now, Congresswoman Steel is lying to her constituents once again because it’s the only way she can get ahead. Congresswoman Steel says one thing here in Orange County and does the opposite in Washington, DC – and I was not afraid to call her out on it. In that 13 second clip weaponized by the Steel campaign and right-wing outlets, I referred to a written transcript of Steel’s record of flip-flopping and feeding constituents convoluted talking points instead of the truth – not any kind of audible accent. Orange County voters know duplicity and political spin when they see it – and they’ll kick Steel out of office for it. For my part, I will continue to hold Steel accountable for her record, because I know the hard-working families of Orange County deserve better.

I am the proud child of Taiwanese immigrants. I have seen the damage of hate and racism firsthand. I have also seen the dangers of the radical right embodied in Congresswoman Michelle Steel. I am determined to stand up to both. The working families of Orange County are better than an out-of-touch representative who would exploit anti-Asian hate against a member of her own community for political gain. Orange County families deserve a representative who will fight tooth and nail for a better future, like my immigrant parents fought for me.

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The column, of about 800 words, goes back and forth between Chen evoking his heritage and attacking Steel. Nowhere does he acknowledge that Steel is herself an immigrant, who spoke Korean and Japanese before she learned English as her third language.

Chen even references January 6, but he does so in a particular way that brings up his own immigrant parents and takes aim at Steel:

I’ve traveled around the world defending democracy. When I witnessed an attack on our own on January 6, 2021, I knew I had to do more. Today, too many within the Republican Party have abandoned their commitment to the constitution and rule of law for a radical and dangerous agenda. Congresswoman Michelle Steel played her part, voting against an independent commission to investigate the violent Jan. 6 attack. She abandoned people like my immigrant, Taiwanese parents, who understand the precarity of democracy all too well, in order to appease her radical party.

In that clip of Chen's remarks at the April 7 meet and greet in the Congregation B’nai Tzedek synagogue in Fountain Valley, California, which was obtained by Townhall, Chen is answering a question from someone in the audience. That person had referred to Steel as "a lousy speaker" and said "she doesn't speak very well," as he appeared to be asking about Chen and Steel debating each other. Chen nods along and murmurs in agreement throughout the person's question.

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Then came Chen's largely publicized response. "Yeah, so she just had another town hall the other day. It's tough, like, we've transcribed it, you kind of need an interpreter to figure out exactly what she's saying," Chen said. To laughter from those in attendance, Chen said "the more she speaks, the better for us." He went on to say that while "I would love to get her into a debate, she's gonna refuse."

Ironically, Chen offered that "public pressure" could help get Steel to debate, even though he and the DCCC have not seemed to be affected by public pressure when it comes to apologizing for his racist remarks. 

As Houston Keene, who has been covering Chen's remarks, reported for Fox News, "Community leaders demand Jay Chen apologize for Steel accent comments as race gets heated," and "AAPI groups protest California Dem over 'interpreter' comment about Rep. Michelle Steel."

Rep. Steel also provided a statement for Townhall about Chen's column, as she continues to call for an apology. "It's sad Mr. Chen refuses to even acknowledge the hurt his comments have caused to so many in our community. He owes all first generations a true apology, but it's clear that rather than simply admitting he was wrong he will continue standing by those terrible remarks," she said. 

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When it comes to the DCCC, National Review Online's Isaac Schorr included a statement in his reporting from spokesperson Mandy Mundy, who did not apologize, but rather doubled down. 

As the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), highlighted, Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) is campaigning with Chen for a "Young Dems Day of Action" on May 14th. This is despite how Porter had called out hate against Asians before.

"If Katie Porter really believes 'we have a responsibility to call out racism' and 'hate has no place in Orange County,' she will immediately disavow Chen and refuse to campaign with him," said CLF Press Secretary Cally Perkins.

An event planned for Chen that was supposed to take place on April 17 which was Easter Sunday. The event was to be with the California Democratic Party in partnership with Tri Counties Democratic Club and the DCCC. It was ultimately listed on the Activate America website as "no longer available." Townhall had reached out to the California Democratic Party asking if there is a reason why the event was listed as such, but received no response.  

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The race is considered a "toss-up." Rep. Steel, who was elected to represent the 48th Congressional District, beat out incumbent Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA) in 2020 with 51.1 percent of the vote to Rouda's 48.9 percent. 

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