ST. LOUIS — A Missouri congressman who yelled "go back to Puerto Rico" at Democrats during a heated House floor debate over the partial government shutdown has apologized to a colleague who perceived the comment as a racial slur directed at him.
Rep. Jason Smith, a Republican from Salem, said when he yelled the comment Thursday he was referring to a group of about 30 Democrats who went to Puerto Rico last weekend in the midst of the shutdown, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported .
But Rep. Tony Cardenas, a Democrat from California, said he believed the comment was directed at him. Cardenas, who organized the Puerto Rico trip, said he heard "go back to Puerto Rico" several times while he was growing up in Pacoima, California.
Smith, the House Republican conference secretary, said he didn't know Cardenas organized the trip and the comment was not directed at any individual. He said he quickly apologized to Cardenas.
"I should not have done it, the outburst on the floor," Smith said. "It was a reaction to them vacationing while the government was shut down. I was up here last weekend working with (Republican House Leader) Kevin McCarthy and everyone else, trying to come up with a plan" to end the shutdown.
Cardenas said he appreciated Smith's call, and the two plan to get together when the House returns to session Tuesday to become better acquainted.