Rep. Peter Welch, the sole congressman from Vermont, is apologizing for a tweet Tuesday afternoon criticizing the ongoing government shutdown, which appeared to overlook the United States’ long history of slavery.
Welch introduced legislation Tuesday that would prevent the government from requiring federal employees to work without pay during a shutdown. Currently, an estimated 800,000-plus federal employees are either furloughed or working without pay. While they are typically given backpay when the government reopens, federal workers are slated to miss their second straight biweekly paycheck — and many are struggling to make ends meet — due to the shutdown.
Welch’s bill would require the government to continue paying the roughly 420,000 “essential” employees who must keep working during a shutdown. Since federal workers are legally prohibited from striking, several labor rights advocates have characterized the current situation for those required to keep working as “involuntary servitude.”
However, in promoting his bill, Welch initially overlooked the country’s most infamous and haunting case of involuntary servitude.
“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,” the 71-year-old Democrat tweeted. “This can never happen again.”
Less than two hours (and thousands of replies on Twitter) later, Welch corrected himself and offered his “sincere apologies.”
“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,” he wrote. “Nothing.”
The mistaken tweet and apology came one day after Welch commemorated the legacy and activism of legendary civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.