Rep. Dana Rohrabacher came under fire Tuesday for comments he made on Sacha Baron Cohen’s new spoof program, with critics saying he advocated arming toddlers to defend themselves at school, but the congressman insisting his comments were aired out of context in a “despicable” fraud by the comedian.
The Huntington Beach Republican, who is facing a tough re-election challenge by Democrat Harley Rouda, is seen on Cohen’s show “Who is America?” discussing school safety. In the show, Rohrabacher says, “Maybe having young people trained and understand(ing) how to defend themselves and their school might actually make us safer here.”
But the comments were used in a satirical piece in which the show’s fictional host, Cohen, proposes a plan that he says was implemented in Israel and armed children as young as 4 to protect against terrorists.
Rohrabacher critics jumped on the comments, with some activists even planning a protest Tuesday. But the congressman’s spokesman, Ken Grubbs, said Rohrabacher never endorsed any plan to arm toddlers.
“If you watch the segment, as the protesting students and parents evidently did not, you will see that Rep. Rohrabacher did not — repeat, did not — endorse the bogus program of training toddlers to use guns,” Grubbs said in an email to City News Service. “Cohen cynically inserted the congressman’s general comments on learning self-defense into the segment to make it appear he did. Cohen’s despicable approach went beyond satire to the level of egregious fraud.”
A spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee panned Rohrabacher’s appearance on the show.
“Congressman Dana Rohrabacher would rather give guns to preschoolers to defend themselves than do his job as a U.S. congressman and defend our children by passing policies that would reduce gun violence,” DCCC spokesman Drew Godinich said.
The SoCal Health Care Coalition, which organized Tuesday’s protest, said Rohrabacher would “rather train and arm children as young as 4 years old than pass popular measures like assault rifle and bump stock bans, and expanding background checks. Caught on camera in this embarrassing exchange, Rohrabacher demonstrated that he is willing to put donations and the agenda of the National Rifle Association over the lives of Americans, including Orange County residents.”
A variety of political figures have lashed out at Cohen in recent weeks, saying they were duped or misled into appearing on the spoof program. Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said a disguised Cohen claimed to be a disabled veteran to get her to consent to an interview. Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders also claimed he was duped into an interview on the program.
Showtime, which airs the program, issued a statement Monday denying that Cohen — best known for his spoof film “Borat” — posed as a disabled veteran.
“In Sunday’s episode, during an interview with Senator Bernie Sanders, Baron Cohen in character as Dr. Ruddick was asked by the senator if he is disabled, and he stated that he is not and uses a mobility scooter to conserve his energy,” according to the cable network. “In addition, Baron Cohen never presented himself as a veteran of the U.S. military to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin during the booking process or during the filming of her interview, and contrary to her claims he did not appear in a wheelchair. In both the interview with Gov. Palin and the interview with Sen. Sanders, he did not wear military apparel of any kind.”