“I understand African Americans have a higher incidence of chronic conditions and that makes them more susceptible to death from Covid. But why does it not make them more susceptible just to get Covid?” Huffman had asked during the testimony.
“Could it just be that African Americans or the colored population do not wash their hands as well as other groups? Or wear a mask? Or do not socially distance themselves? Could that be the explanation for why the higher incidence?”
The witness at the hearing where Huffman asked the question, Angela Dawson, who serves as the executive director of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, quickly dismissed his assertion, saying emphatically: “That is not the opinion of leading medical experts in this country.”
After a firestorm around his comments, Huffman apologized.
News of Huffman’s appointment to the the Ohio Senate’s health panel drew swift rebukes from lawmakers across the state.
State Rep. Catherine Ingram, a Democrat, said Huffman’s “racist and problematic remarks” shows he is unfit to chair a committee that impacts Black residents and called for his appointment to immediately be rescinded.
Tony Bishop, executive director of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, said Thursday the group demands a committee leader who “understands and can help enact health policy that addresses inequities in our state without political influence.” And if the Senate’s leadership will not replace Huffman as chairman, they expect him “to use his position to improve the health of Ohio’s African American population” by working with the caucus to pass legislation that address health disparities in the state.
CNN reached out to Huffman for comment Monday.
John Fortney, press secretary and senior communications adviser for the Ohio Senate Majority Caucus, told CNN in a statement Monday that Huffman is “a medical doctor and highly qualified” to chair the committee.
“He has a long record of providing healthcare to minority neighborhoods and has joined multiple mission trips at his own expense to treat those from disadvantaged countries,” Fortney said. “He apologized months ago for asking a clumsy and awkwardly worded question. Sincere apologies deserve sincere forgiveness, and not the perpetual politically weaponized judgement of the cancel culture.”
“I apologize, and I make no excuses. Those who know me will tell you that I have nothing but love and respect for all people, and I would never intentionally disrespect or denigrate anyone for any reason.”
TeamHealth, a hospital management firm that employed Huffman as a part-time physician, confirmed in June that Huffman had been fired from that position.
“Dr. Huffman’s comments are wholly inconsistent with our values and commitment to creating a tolerant and diverse workplace,” a spokesman for TeamHealth said in a statement.
CNN’s Devan Cole contributed to this report.