early and often

Why Biden Called for the Resignation of L.A. City Council Members

Joe Biden lays down the party line. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden, who’s about to head west on a four-day swing that will bring him to Southern California, intervened in a simmering, racially explosive scandal involving three Los Angeles City Council members on Tuesday evening. His call for the resignation of all three officeholders, who were caught on tape in an extensive discussion full of offensive racial slurs, was conveyed by White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, as the Los Angeles Times reported:

President Biden believes Nury Martinez and other councilmembers should resign from the Los Angeles City Council over racist remarks heard in leaked recordings that were made public this week, a White House spokesperson said Tuesday.

“The president is glad to see that one of the participants in that conversation has resigned, but they all should,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, calling the language recorded during the conversation “unacceptable” and “appalling.”

Actually, Council President Nury Martinez has simply announced she is resigning as council president and taking a “leave of absence”; she is still on the legislative body. Councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo haven’t publicly taken any remedial steps. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, mayoral candidates Karen Bass and Rick Caruso, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, and several other councilmembers have also called for all three to resign. Biden probably figured a good strong push from the leader of their party would get them all out, putting an end to what is beginning to look like a very nasty and divisive juncture for a city government that has really been struggling with its image lately.

The content of the conversation was succinctly described by the Cut’s Olivia Truffaut-Wong:

During the leaked conversation, reportedly recorded a year ago, Martinez mocked the Indigenous Oxacan community, calling them “little short dark people.” She also made racist remarks about the young Black son of fellow councilmember Mark Bonin, who is white. After de León reportedly called Bonin the “fourth Black member” of the council, Martinez accused Bonin of using his son as “an accessory” and claimed the child had acted out during a 2017 Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, when he was 2 years old. “They’re raising him like a white kid,” Martinez said. “I was like, This kid needs a beatdown. Let me take him around the corner and then I’ll bring him back.” She also described him as “parece changuito,” which the L.A. Times translated as “like a monkey.”

And then there was this bonus nastiness:

Another factor that probably affected the timing of Biden’s thunderbolt was that there was some Republican racism in the news: Over the weekend, Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville told a Nevada GOP rally hosted by Donald Trump that Democrats were not just soft on crime but “pro-crime” and in favor of reparations “because they think the people that do the crime are owed that!” In her comments on the L.A. situation, Biden’s spox alluded to that incident. Per the Times:

Responding to a question in the briefing room, Jean-Pierre took the opportunity to draw a broader contrast for voters as the midterm elections near.

“Here’s the difference between Democrats and Republicans: When a Democrat says something racist or antisemitic … we hold Democrats accountable,” she said. “When a MAGA Republican says something racist and/or antisemitic, they are embraced by cheering crowds and become celebrated and sought after.”

In any event, the councilmember scandal pretty clearly reflects some tensions among various communities in America’s second largest city, and a lot of angst over who gets represented fairly in municipal government (redistricting conflicts was the ostensible subject of the conversation that came to harsh light). And it also reinforces a very important lesson for politicians and even regular citizens: You should keep bigoted thoughts to yourself, or better yet, try to be the kind of person who doesn’t even have them.

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Why Biden Told 3 Los Angeles City Council Members to Resign