Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.), locked in a tight reelection battle, is facing fresh controversy over past comments as a conservative talk-radio host, this time for mocking women who said they were traumatized by unwanted sexual advances.
CNN, which has delved into past recordings of Lewis’s show, found audio from a November 2012 broadcast in which Lewis talks with a caller about allegations of sexual harassment that had been leveled against then-Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain from his tenure as president of the National Restaurant Association.
“I don’t want to be callous here, but how traumatizing was it?” Lewis said of the women who had made allegations against Cain. “How many women at some point in their life have a man come on to them, place their hand on their shoulder or maybe even their thigh, kiss them, and they would rather not have it happen, but is that really something that’s going to be seared in your memory that you’ll need therapy for? You’ll never get over it?”
Lewis then shifted tone, speaking as a distraught woman. “It was the most traumatizing experience . . . ” he said. “Come on! She wasn’t raped.”
CNN said Lewis and his campaign did not return requests for comment.
Becky Alery, campaign manager for Lewis, dismissed the report as a “deliberate hit job.”
“Surprise, two weeks before the election and more talk show tapes appear. Boy, didn’t see that one coming,” Alery said sarcastically in a statement.
“Lewis, of course, was mocking false claims of harassment and precisely the environment that tried to destroy (Supreme Court Justice) Clarence Thomas and Judge (Brett) Kavanaugh,” Alery said. “At some point, you have to ask yourself, is there nothing these people will do for power?”
“The Jason Lewis Show,” a syndicated radio program, aired from 2009 until 2014. Lewis was elected to the House in 2016 to represent a suburban district south of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
In the latest batch of recordings, Lewis also said in 2012 that “I detest sexual harassment law,” CNN reported.
“Sexual harassment law bestows in the eye of the beholder anything he or she wants it to be it,” Lewis said. “It distorts our free speech rights. The law is wide enough to drive a semi through.”
EMILY’S List, a group that backs female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights, called for Lewis’s defeat next month.
“Jason Lewis is a despicable person who continues to prove how unfit he is for public office,” Christina Reynolds, the group’s vice president of communications, said in a statement.
CNN previously reported that Lewis, amid the uproar over law student Sandra Fluke’s advocacy for mandatory insurance coverage for birth control in 2012, lamented that it was no longer acceptable to refer to sexually active women as “sluts.”
Also in 2012, the network reported, Lewis made broad and demeaning statements about African Americans, saying they had an “entitlement mentality” and are “addicted” to government subsidies.
In the thick of the 2012 presidential campaign, Lewis also repeatedly belittled those receiving government assistance, calling them “parasites” and “scoundrels.”
After CNN unearthed those statements in July, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters that he separated Lewis’s past career with his present service as a lawmaker.
“He was a shock jock; that was his job at the time,” Ryan said. “I’ve seen some of these comments. And I obviously don’t support those comments. But the Jason Lewis I know here, who is a congressman, is an extremely conscientious man, a very hard-working, a very effective member of Congress who has been nothing but an exemplary congressman who represents his constituents well.”
Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.