Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) apologized Tuesday night as his push for legislation to prohibit forcing federal workers to work without pay struck many as tone deaf, after he appeared to discount the nation’s past of allowing legal slavery.
“Sincere apologies,” Welch wrote on Twitter. “Nothing worse in the history of our country than the brutal inhumanity of the horrible, relentless, and savage infliction of involuntary servitude-slavery- on millions of people whose freedom was denied.”
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Welch had initially tweeted that “never in the history of this country has it been legal to make people work for free but that’s what’s happening to federal employees,” in an effort to boost support for his bill that would make it illegal to force federal workers to work without pay.
An estimated 400,000 federal workers are currently facing the reality of working without pay, as the longest federal government shutdown in history reaches its 32nd day with no immediate end in sight. President Donald Trump signed legislation last week, which sailed through with bipartisan support, that guarantees back pay for federal workers when the shutdown ends.
A number of initial responses to Welch’s tweet expressed a flabbergasted sense that the seven-term incumbent appeared to not account for the nation’s acceptance of slavery until the 13th Amendment was formally ratified and thus outlawed the practice in 1865.