NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – The office of Hawkins County Senator Frank Niceley responded Friday evening after the senator made a comment about the Trump family, which many have called anti-Semitic.
Niceley made comments in an interview with NBC News referring to Morgan Ortagus, a former Tennessee GOP candidate backed by former President Trump recently removed from the ballot by the General Assembly.
“I think Jared Kushner – he’s Jewish, she’s Jewish – I think Jared will be upset. Ivanka will be upset. I don’t think Trump cares,” Niceley said in the NBC News interview.
Ortagus is Jewish. Niceley referred to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who are both Jewish, as upset to Ortagus’ removal from the ballot. Donald Trump is not Jewish.
Niceley’s office sent News Channel 11 its response to claims of anti-Semitism Friday.
“In an extended interview with NBC News, a reporter decided to take a small portion of my comments out of context in order to manufacture a controversy to distract people from the fact that Morgan Ortagus was declared ineligible for the ballot by both the Tennessee Republican Party and the General Assembly. Let me be clear: I have nothing but respect for the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Attempting to construe my off-hand comments about the Trump family as antisemitism is unfair and inaccurate.”-Sen. Frank Niceley
Senator Marsha Blackburn responded to the comments, calling them “anti-Semitic” and “repulsive.”
Fellow Tennessee Senator Jon Lundberg said the comments were inappropriate.
“I don’t know what message he was trying to deliver,” Lundberg said. “I don’t know why he made the reference he did. I thought that was inappropriate.”
On the Senate floor Thursday, Niceley apparently responded to the claims.
“I’ve been instructed not to say anything about anything. They told me if a reporter asks me anything, my response is supposed to be ‘no hablo English,'” Nicely said to laughter by other senators.
Criticism of Niceley’s comments comes just days after the senator used Adolf Hitler as an example of a person overcoming homelessness during Senate discussion on a bill that would increase penalties for camping on public property.
Lundberg said he expected better behavior from his fellow senator.
“That’s not the type of discussion we expect or desire,” Lundberg said. “Rather bizarre but something none of us are trying to discuss.”
Niceley has not faced any reprimand from the Tennessee General Assembly for his comments.