Democrat Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has faced heavy criticism this week over his alleged membership at an “all-white” beach club in Newport, Rhode Island.
Whitehouse finally responded to the protests on Wednesday, Breitbart reported, with a lengthy statement in which he denied being a member of the beach club, but admitted he is part of a sailing group that suffers from what he called a “lack of diversity.”
“While this club does not have exclusionary rules for membership, it does lack diversity,” the Democrat lawmaker said. “Failing to address the sailing club’s lack of diversity is squarely on me, and something for which I am sorry.”
“Make his actions match his rhetoric”
As Breitbart notes, Whitehouse was first asked last weekend whether “elite, all-white, wealthy club[s]” ought to “continue to exist.” His response? “It’s a long tradition in Rhode Island and there are many of them and I think we just need to work our way through the issues, thank you.”
At the same time, reports emerged alleging that Whitehouse had frequented one of these clubs — namely, the Bailey Beach Club, which has been slammed by advocacy groups including two Rhode Island chapters of Black Lives Matter.
“After a year of protests calling for change, Sen. Whitehouse is in a position to make it happen and has passed the buck,” one of the statements read, according to Breitbart.
“It’s past time that Sen. Whitehouse used his platform and make his actions match his rhetoric,” the group added. “Sen. Whitehouse should publicly and vigorously support increased diversity and accessibility and clubs like his, which have long held shut their doors to people of color.”
Practice what he preaches
In his Wednesday statement, Whitehouse said he was “caught off guard” by the line of questioning the week before.
“A representative of a local website recently caught me off guard by asking me about diversity at a beach club to which family members of mine belong,” the senator said, as Breitbart reported. “I was attending an unrelated event and wasn’t prepared for the question. At the time, I made the mistake of accepting her premise.
“While I am not a member of the beach club, I do own a boat and belong to a sailing club in Newport,” Whitehouse added. After apologizing, the Dem said he’s committed “to working with the club and the community to build a more inclusive membership and to better connect with the local community.”
It remains to be seen whether the statement is enough to satisfy Whitehouse’s critics, who want to see him practice what he preaches.
Meanwhile, the Bailey Beach Club has also put out a statement in response to the matter. “Over many years, Club members and their families have included people of many racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds from around the world who come to Newport every summer,” the group said, according to Breitbart. “Our membership comes from all over the globe to our small club and we welcome the diversity of view and background they bring to our community.”