Republican Rep. Allen B. West of Florida said he believes that more than 75 Democrats in the House are members of the Communist Party, an accusation that echoed then-Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy's unsubstantiated 1950s allegations that communists had infiltrated the top ranks of the U.S. government.
Addressing a town hall-style meeting Tuesday in Florida, the freshman lawmaker was asked how many members of the House are "card-carrying Marxists." West said that "there's about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party." He gave no names.
West's office said Wednesday that the congressman stood by the comments and was referring to the 76 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the largest group within the House Democratic Caucus.
"The Communist Party has publicly referred to the Progressive Caucus as its allies," said Angela Melvin, a spokeswoman for West. "The Progressive Caucus speaks for itself. These individuals certainly aren't proponents of free markets or individual economic freedom."
West's office cited a May 2010 article on health care that appeared in the Communist Party USA pre-convention publication that described the Progressive Caucus and Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., as allies of the party but not members. The article, however, carried the disclaimer that Communist Party USA "takes no responsibility for the opinions expressed in this article or other articles in the pre-convention discussion."
Reps. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Keith M. Ellison, D-Minn., co-chairmen of the caucus, rejected West's contention.
"Allen West is denigrating the millions of Americans who voted to elect Congressional Progressive Caucus members, and he is ignoring the oath they took to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution -- just like he did," the two said in a statement. "Calling fellow members of Congress 'communists' is reminiscent of the days when Joe McCarthy divided Americans with name-calling and modern-day witch hunts that don't advance policies to benefit people's lives."
Grijalva and Ellison said West "repeatedly polarizes the American people instead of focusing on their interests. When people like Rep. West have no ideals or principles, they rely on personal attacks."
The caucus, founded in 1991, includes 75 House members and one senator and describes its goals as economic fairness, civil rights, environmental protection, energy independence and global security.
The Palm Beach Post first reported West's comments.
During the Cold War, McCarthy, a Republican senator from Wisconsin, claimed that communists and Soviet spies had burrowed their way into the federal government. He never produced the documentation to back up his claims. In 1954, the Senate voted to censure him.