Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. appeared before Congress in a highly contentious hearing focused on federal government “censorship” of Americans’ free speech on social media. The hearing quickly devolved into tense exchanges between Democrats and Republicans over Kennedy’s controversial remarks on vaccines and the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of the key moments during the hearing involved Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) confronting Kennedy directly about his comments regarding Covid-19 health policies and the Holocaust. Schultz expressed concern over Kennedy’s past statements that the Covid-19 virus was “targeted to attack Caucasians and Black people” and that “the people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese.” She drew attention to a video where Kennedy made these remarks, calling them alarming and harmful.
Wasserman Schultz further questioned Kennedy on the connections between his remarks and historical scapegoating of Jewish people for disease outbreaks. She asked whether he saw the similarities between his claim that Covid-19 was “bioengineered” to spare Jews and people of Chinese descent and the historical blaming of Jews for disease outbreaks.
Kennedy attempted to counter her claims, stating that she was “misrepresenting” his remarks and that they were supported by a study from the Cleveland Clinic. However, Wasserman Schultz pressed on, pointing out that his statements echoed the dangerous and false historical trend of blaming Jewish people for pandemics, known as “blood libel.”
Another noteworthy moment came when Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) used their time to discuss natural immunity and vaccine risks. Roy expressed gratitude for vaccines like the polio vaccine but emphasized the need to understand the health impacts of vaccines in the long term. Massie focused on the issue of natural immunity, suggesting that it might provide better long-term protection than widespread vaccination. He questioned Kennedy on efforts by social media to limit debate on natural immunity. Kennedy argued that U.S. Covid data showed that widespread vaccination did little to stop the spread of the virus, citing lower Covid death rates in impoverished countries like Haiti and Nigeria. However, experts have attributed lower death rates in some regions to factors beyond vaccination, such as strict travel rules and younger populations less prone to certain conditions.
In addition to the heated exchanges during the hearing, Ranking member Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.) drew attention to ties between Kennedy and Republican operatives. Plaskett highlighted the treasurer of Kennedy’s super PAC, Heal the Divide, who had supported Republican candidates and causes. Democrats have raised concerns that Republicans may be using Kennedy to weaken President Joe Biden’s chances ahead of the general election and help Republicans take the White House.
Despite the contentious nature of the hearing, the issue of federal government “censorship” of free speech on social media remains a critical topic, with Democrats and Republicans deeply divided over how to address concerns over misinformation and disinformation online. As Kennedy’s presidential candidacy adds to the political complexities, the debate over censorship and vaccine-related issues is likely to continue to be a major point of contention.