Rep. Bobby Schilling (R-Ill.) said during a campaign forum that some Latinos can't learn English as a second language because they don't know how to speak Spanish properly, either.
"One of the biggest problems is -- you know, I've got some Hispanic friends -- is that a lot of those folks that don't know English, is primarily because they don't even know Spanish," he said at a forum in Annawan, Ill., caught on tape by Democratic trackers and made public Sunday. "They don't even know their own language. So that's why you've got these teachers coming in helping them to try and get them better with their own language and then kind of teach them. It's a pretty tough battle."
Schilling, a first-time congressman, is being challenged this cycle by Democrat Cheri Bustos and Independent Eric Reyes, both of whom called his comments offensive.
His campaign didn't see it that way.
"It's not an offensive quote," Schilling campaign manager Terry Schilling told Quad Cities Online. "It's simply stating a fact."
Schilling congressional office spokeswoman Andie Pivarunas said he "believes that education is the doorway to opportunity and that it should be available to everyone -- not just those for whom English is a native language."
"He is focused on advancing policies that give folks the opportunity to succeed, either in or out of the classroom," she said in an email.
"It’s unfortunate that these types of misleading, negative attacks are being used to distort Congressman Schilling’s record," she continued. "Congressman Schilling remains focused on bringing people together and providing folks with the ability to get ahead and thrive."
Schilling is not a co-sponsor of the English Language Unity Act, but in his statement indicated some support for English-only laws.
His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment clarifying his legislative views.
UPDATE: 5:00 p.m. -- Jon Schweppe, Schilling's campaign spokesman, sent the following statement to clarify the congressman's remarks:
"Congressman Schilling was clearly talking about what every freshman in high school taking Spanish 1 understands -- you must first learn the fundamentals and proper grammar of your own language before learning a second language. This is something any foreign language educator would tell you."
CORRECTION: 5:00 p.m. -- This story has been updated to remove two quotes made by audience members and incorrectly attributed to Schilling.