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Alaska congressman apologizes for using ethnic slur

Republicans are in desperate need of attracting more Hispanic voters, but recent comments from Rep. Don Young touched a nerve across the country and also unleashed a flood of condemnation from top Republicans. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports.

 

Alaska Rep. Don Young, R, issued a new statement late Friday formally apologizing for his use of a slur to describe immigrant laborers.

Young, who had endured demands by Democrats and other fellow Republicans -- including House Speaker John Boehner -- to apologize for the use of the term "wetbacks" in a radio interview on Thursday, issued a statement doing just that.

Young said in a statement:

"I apologize for the insensitive term I used during an interview in Ketchikan, Alaska.  There was no malice in my heart or intent to offend; it was a poor choice of words. That word, and the negative attitudes that come with it, should be left in the 20th century,  and I’m sorry that this has shifted our focus away from comprehensive immigration reform."

Young had appeared on KRBD radio on Thursday, where he made his initial remark.

"My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes," Young said. "It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine."

The 21-term congressman issued a statement that evening explaining that he meant no offense by using the ethnic slur, which he said he had learned during a childhood on farms in California.

But Republican leaders, who must repair the party's dismal image among the increasingly influential Latino voting bloc, were quick to distance themselves from Young, and demand a fuller apology.

"I don’t care why he said it – there’s no excuse and it warrants an immediate apology," Boehner said.