Georgia Democratic Senate candidate Raphael Warnock described members of the U.S. Senate as "gangsters and thugs" whose votes for a 2017 tax cut exposed their willingness to "kill children."
The remarks, which have not previously been reported, may provide another opening for Warnock's Republican opponent, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who has worked to portray him as a "radical liberal." Warnock, a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, has come under fire for other controversial statements, including his praise for Rev. Jeremiah Wright's "God Damn America" speech, his condemnation of Israel, which he likened to apartheid South Africa, and his claim that "America needs to repent for its worship of whiteness."
In the December 2017 sermon, Warnock slammed members of the Senate for passing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The tax reform legislation—which reduced tax liability for low- and middle-class Americans last year, according to IRS data—was approved by Congress in December 2017 without a single Democratic vote.
"While others were sleeping, members of the United States Senate declared war, launched a vicious and evil attack on the most vulnerable people in America," said Warnock. "Herod is on the loose. Herod is a cynical politician, who's willing to kill children and kill the children's health program in order to preserve his own wealth and his own power."
Herod the Great was the Judean king who attempted to kill the infant Jesus by ordering the mass slaughter of Jewish babies in Bethlehem, according to the New Testament.
Warnock continued, "On Friday night, the United States Senate decided by a slim majority to pick the pockets of the poor, the sick, the old, and the yet unborn in order to line the pockets of the ultra-rich. Don't tell me about gangsters and thugs on the streets, there are more gangsters and thugs in Washington, D.C., in the Capitol than there are—a bunch of them."
Warnock's remarks came the day after Senate Republicans passed a version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Congress passed a final version of the legislation on Dec. 20, 2017, in a party-line vote; President Donald Trump signed it into law two days later.
While Loeffler was not in the Senate at the time of the vote, Georgia Republican senator David Perdue—who is locked in a tight race against Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff—did vote in favor of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
"Raphael Warnock's comments are abhorrent—and yet totally unsurprising. He and his leftist running mate, Jon Ossoff, consistently support socialist economic policies that raise taxes, kill jobs, shutter small businesses, and weaken America's standing," Perdue spokeswoman Lizzie Gregory told the Washington Free Beacon. "The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—championed by leaders like Senator David Perdue—fueled the greatest economic turnaround in American history. Warnock and Ossoff are running to destroy it."
Warnock did not respond to a request for comment.
Democrats have criticized the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act as a giveaway to wealthy Americans and corporations, though independent analyses, including one from the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan economic think tank, found that "the net effect of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was to reduce effective tax rates across income groups."
The policy, which went into effect in 2018, had the largest benefit for low- and middle-income earners, according to a MarketWatch analysis of IRS data released in March.
"Taxpayers making between $40,000 and $50,000 a year had the largest fall in average tax liability, a 14.5 percent drop," MarketWatch reported. Those earning between $15,000 and $20,000 saw a 12.5 percent decrease in tax liability, while those who earned between $25,000 to $30,000 had an 11.2 percent decrease and those who earned between $100,000 and $200,000 had a 10.9 percent decrease.
The high-stakes Georgia race is one of two run-offs in the state that will determine party control of the Senate next year. The election is scheduled for Jan. 5.