Questioning a witness about childcare and the teaching of race, the Oklahoma Republican senator Markwayne Mullin said: “I don’t want reality.”
The remark prompted laughter in the hearing room.
Mullin said he “misspoke” and returned to hectoring his witness about whether a book meant to teach children about racism was appropriate for early learning classes.
Mullin is an election denier, former cage fighter and plumbing company owner who sat in the US House before being elected to the Senate last year.
His confrontational style has caused comment before. In March, for example, he told a Teamsters leader to “shut your mouth” during a fiery exchange.
Mullin’s remark about reality and its uses came on Wednesday in a hearing held by the Senate health, education, labour and pensions committee.
The panel is chaired by Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a self-described democratic socialist, a belief system Mullin vociferously opposes.
The hearing took place under the title “Solving the Child Care Crisis: Meeting the Needs of Working Families and Child Care Workers”.
The five witnesses included the the New Mexico secretary for early childhood education and care and the president of the Independent Women’s Forum of Washington DC.
Taking his turn for questions, Mullin held a book called Our Skin and said: “I’m going to read exactly what this book says. You guys might find it interesting.
“‘A long time ago, way before you were born, a group of white people made up an idea called race. They sorted people by skin colour and said that white people were better, smarter, prettier, and they deserved more than everybody else.’
“This would be taught if we socialise our pre-K system, this would be.”
Asked by Sanders if he disagreed with the book, Mullin said: “One thousand percent. How about we teach Jesus Loves Me? … and teaching Jesus loves and loves the little children. The lyrics go, ‘Red and yellow, black and white. They’re all precious in our sight.’”
The hymn Mullin was referring to, Jesus Loves the Little Children, was written by C Herbert Woolston.
Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race, by Jessica Ralli and Megan Madison, has been seized upon by rightwingers in the ongoing battle over the teaching of race.
Saying he was “Cherokee Native American” and adding: “I think we have experienced a little bit of racism before in my life”, Mullin continued: “I’ll ask everybody on the panel. Which is better to teach?”
Two witnesses attempted to answer. The senator talked over them.
Turning to Cheryl Morman, president of the Virginia Alliance for Family Child Care Associations, Mullin asked: “So which one is better?”
Morman said: “I disagree. First, it is important that we teach Jesus and Jesus is what we teach.”
Mullin interjected: “So which one is better?”
Morman said: “But the reality is –”
Mullin cut her off: “I don’t want reality, I’m asking the question, which one is better?”
Amid laughter – and with Mullin the recipient of a sideways look from the Republican next to him, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama – an unidentified senator said: “Got it on tape.”
“Misspoke,” said Mullin, before returning to the attack.
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