Specifically, the Jefferson County Republican lawmaker took issue with the Wolf administration’s controversial coronavirus waiver process for businesses.
During a Pennsylvania House state government committee meeting this week, state Rep. Cris Dush offered what many found to be offensive criticism about the transparency of Gov. Tom Wolf’s response to COVID-19. Not only did he say the response took a page out of a “socialist playbook,” Dush also compared the Wolf administration to governments of Nazi Germany and the former U.S.S.R.
Specifically, the Jefferson County Republican congressman took issue with the Wolf administration’s controversial coronavirus waiver process for businesses. These waivers allowed select businesses to reopen despite a statewide shutdown, which has caused Republicans to accuse the governor of a lack of transparency about how and why the waivers were issued.
Two Republican senators, Mike Regan of Cumberland/York counties and Tom Killion of Delaware County, have subpoenaed Gov. Wolf and Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin to produce documents detailing the business waiver program by May 8.
“This allowed the public perception to conclude that decisions made as part of the waiver review process were inconsistent, with competing businesses receiving differing waiver decisions, creating inequities within a single industry,” Regan said during a hearing last week.
The Wolf administration has said it will release information on the process, though the timeline is still unclear.
Dush echoed his fellow Republicans’ demands for transparency regarding the waiver application process, as well as any information surrounding the number of Pennsylvania COVID-19 patients who have recovered.
“More and more I go back to the German Democratic Nationalist Socialist Party, the Nazi party. I go to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR,” Dush said during Monday’s meeting. “This is a socialist playbook.”
Dush, who represents Jefferson County and parts of Indiana County within House District 66, was met with immediate rebuttal from Democrats on the committee. Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-Philadelphia), the ranking Democrat on the committee, countered Dush’s remarks.
“Chairman, this is outrageous,” Boyle said. “Stop it with these Nazi references. It’s offensive and wrong. Stop it.”
Dush doubled down on his comparison, citing “history” and the governor’s responsibility to share requested information with the public and press, according to the Pittsburgh City Paper. “It’s a statement of history,” Dush said. “It’s history. It’s history. This is a socialist playbook and I have to say that it’s important for the people of this state to start having access to information rather than having it blown off to the side and hidden for an agenda.”
PennLive reports that the governor has refuted claims that his administration is withholding information, though several government departments are closed and not processing requests filed under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know law. Regarding the number of recovered COVID-19 patients in the state, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine has stated that hospitals do not report information to the state when COVID patients are discharged.
Dush eventually apologized for his comments, but Wolf spokeswoman Lindsay Kensinger responded to the comments by highlighting a need for more cooperation from lawmakers across the aisle during the pandemic.
“In the last few days, House Republicans have shared fake reopening plans online and a rank and file member has compared the Administration to Nazis while Republican members have spent time moving legislation to reopen zoos during a global pandemic and rallied with activists who have made threats against the governor,” Kensinger said. “We badly need partners in the Legislature who will take the challenge before them seriously instead of using it to divide the commonwealth.”
A group of Jewish-affiliated organizations also condemned Dush’s comments, saying in a joint statement: “Such rhetoric diminishes the horrific atrocities committed by the Nazis and is offensive and wrong.
“While we appreciate that Rep. Dush did issue an apology on the House floor several hours later, we are deeply disappointed that he did not immediately retract his comments when the vice-chair of the Committee requested that he do so, and that in his Floor remarks he did not directly acknowledge what he had said and why it was wrong.”
They added: “We fervently hope we will never hear such thoughtless language used by a Pennsylvania leader again.”