(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf told House Republican leaders on Thursday they should censure a member of their party who released a statement appearing to mock a cabinet official.
“Abhorrent, disrespectful, dangerous,” Wolf said. “There are no words that adequately describe my disdain for the antics Rep. [Russ] Diamond displayed in his latest missive.”
Diamond, R-Lebanon, drew the governor’s scorn after publicizing a statement Wednesday that equated the public shame residents experience for not wearing masks during the pandemic to the decades of discrimination faced by the LGBTQ community.
Diamond’s news release plagiarized a statement made by Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine just a day earlier regarding the multiple transphobic attacks levied against her in recent weeks. Instead, all references to the LGBTQ community were replaced with the condemnation unmasked residents may face as a result of their actions.
“I am calling on Republican House leadership to introduce a resolution to censure the representative immediately," Wolf said. "We need the Republicans to stop spreading misinformation to the general public, and we badly need them to be more responsible and more responsive to the health and wellbeing of all Pennsylvanians. This dangerous, reckless behavior is not welcome in Pennsylvania.”
Wolf further denounced the statement as a “thinly-veiled attack” against the LGBTQ community and Levine, herself, a transgender woman. He went on to describe those who take pride in not wearing masks as ignorant and lacking respect.
“To equate any disrespect for those not wearing masks to the decades of disrespect, threats and violence against our LGBTQ community goes far beyond the hallmarks of a decent society,” he said. “For these actions to come from a legislator elected to fairly represent all his constituents is simply unforgivable.”
Levine told reporters at a press conference Thursday she fully supports the governor's statement.
"This is another example of harassment against LGBTQ individuals," she said. "By taking my words and making that substitution is another example of the disrespect LGBTQ are facing."
Diamond said the irony of the situation is lost on the administration, though he clarifies that he believes Levine should “live as she wishes” as “any American has the right to."
“Secretary of Health Rachel Levine made a strong statement in defense of her lifestyle and condemned hatred and intolerance. I, of course, condemn all hatred and intolerance,” he said. “However, I found it ironic that Levine fails to see that her own policies, and those of the governor, are creating similar hatred and intolerance across Pennsylvania.”
Diamond, an outspoken critic of the administration’s economic and social restrictions imposed during the pandemic, was the first to introduce a resolution that would strip the governor of his emergency powers. He’s also seconded calls for both Wolf and Levine to resign in recent months – a position he reiterated on Thursday – after citing what he called failed policies inside nursing homes that some say have contributed to more than 4,800 COVID-19 deaths.
“I call on the governor to immediately resign, right after he dismisses Dr. Rachel Levine as secretary of Health for her horrendous performance as the top health official in the state, and her actions to rescue her own mother from the deadly setting of a personal care home without informing the rest of Pennsylvania of the dangers within,” he said.
Wolf’s censure request comes as the latest missive in a mounting battle between Republican lawmakers and the administration over pandemic mitigation measures, with Diamond’s district in Lebanon County at the heart of the discord.
Last week, two GOP county commissioners sued Wolf in Commonwealth Court to compel the release of $12.8 million in federal CARES Act funding after the governor admitted withholding the aid as punishment for their decision to lift pandemic restrictions ahead of schedule.
High ranking Republicans in the House and Senate later endorsed the lawsuit as necessary and even introduced legislation that would prevent future administrations from withholding money appropriated by the Legislature.
In response to the governor’s statement Wednesday, Jason Gottesman, spokesperson for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, denounced “discrimination in all forms,” but said members can speak out on their own behalves.
“All members of the House of Representatives – both Republican and Democratic – are elected individually and have the tools to communicate individually without carrying the endorsement of any one caucus or the whole House,” he said. "Discrimination in any form is wrong and we continue to encourage all members to communicate professionally and courteously."