Sen. Chuck Grassley’s compliment to Korean American judge Lucy Koh sparks backlash for racial stereotype

DES MOINES, Iowa – U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley praised a Korean American judge for her work ethic during a Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, congratulating “you and your people.”.

“What you said about your Korean background reminded me a lot of what my daughter-in-law of 45 years has said: ‘If I’ve learned anything from Korean people, it’s a hard work ethic. And how you can make a lot out of nothing,'” he said. “So I congratulate you and your people.”.

Lucy Koh, a judge nominated by President Joe Biden to the federal appeals court, spoke during the hearing about her Korean immigrant family and called her Korean mother her “hero.”.

Grassley faced swift criticism for playing into stereotypes that cast Asian Americans as the “model minority,” a concept that suggests Asian Americans are more successful than other minority groups because they work harder. The idea not only undermines the real barriers many Asian Americans face, but it can also be used to justify discrimination against Black, Latino and other minority groups.

Among those to criticize Grassley was Rep. Judy Chu, a California Democrat and chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

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“Even as a compliment, assigning any trait to a whole community is the definition of prejudice,” she posted on Twitter. “Treating all members of a group as the same invites mistreatment. It may not be the same incitement to violence seen in other slurs, but is harmful nonetheless.”.

Grassley’s office issued a statement after his comments.

“Sen. Grassley’s intent was to be complimentary, not to insult anyone,” Grassley’s spokesman, Taylor Foy, said in a statement provided to the Des Moines Register. “Chairman Durbin invited Judge Koh to share the inspiring story of her family’s immigration to the United States. Sen. Grassley shared that he has similarly been inspired by the immigration story of his daughter-in-law, who is also Korean-American.”.

Grassley, 88, announced last month that he will seek an eighth term in the U.S. Senate, officially launching a new election campaign.

Former U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer is the best-known Democrat to mount a campaign against him.

In an early test of the race, a September Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll showed Grassley leading Finkenauer 55% to 37% among likely voters. Another 7% are not sure who they would vote for in a head-to-head matchup, and 1% would not vote.

More:Iowa Poll: Chuck Grassley leads Abby Finkenauer in test of possible US Senate matchup.

Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at [email protected] or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.

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