US Politics

Attack on US Senator Mitch McConnell’s wife triggers China race row

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 February, 2013, 2:49pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

Aides to top Republican US Senator Mitch McConnell voiced outrage on Tuesday after a left-leaning group suggested that he supported China over the United States due to his Taiwan-born wife.

McConnell, who faces re-election next year, is married to former labour secretary Elaine Chao. She was born in Taiwan to parents who fled mainland China and immigrated to the United States as a child.

Progress Kentucky, a pressure group opposed to McConnell, posted a message on Twitter that noted that the Senate Republican leader was married to Chao and quipped, “May explain why your job moved to China!”

The group also linked to a press release in which China’s Premier Wen Jiabao thanked Chao’s father, businessman James Chao, for business deals that helped benefit the Asian economy’s shipbuilding industry.

Jesse Benton, a spokesman for McConnell’s re-election campaign, called Elaine Chao and her family “shining examples of the American Dream” who came to the United States with little and built successful businesses.

“It is unconscionable that anyone would use blatant race-baiting for political gain,” Benton said in a statement.

“Progress Kentucky should be ashamed of themselves. We hope all Americans can agree that these disgusting tactics have no place in American politics as we try to bring people together to solve our difficult problems,” he said.

A spokesman for Progress Kentucky told WFPL, the Louisville radio station that first drew attention to the Twitter posts, that tweets should not be seen in the same way as official statements by the group.

“Inferring that Elaine Chao is not a US citizen was not our intention,” the spokesman, Curtis Morrison, told the station.

Chao, who served under former president George W Bush, worked in the last election as a representative to Asian Americans for Republican Mitt Romney. Polls showed Asian Americans voted overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama.

China is a frequent bugbear in US political advertising that highlights Americans’ economic anxieties. Pete Hoekstra, a Republican who unsuccessfully sought a Senate seat in Michigan last year, came under fire for a commercial that featured an Asian girl praising his opponent in broken English.

McConnell is known for his interest in Asia, particularly Myanmar.