Facing a firestorm of criticism, North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis said Wednesday he may have made a "poor choice of words" when he suggested the state "find a way to divide and conquer" people on public assistance.
However, he stuck by other remarks that the state might consider drug-testing recipients of welfare and other public money, and even some state employees.
The Cornelius Republican made the comments late last week in response to questions at a town meeting in Madison County. Tight budgets, he said, force tough choices.
He compared public assistance for "a woman in a wheelchair" to that for a mother with children out of wedlock.
"At some point, we'll have to say, 'First kid, we'll give you a pass. Second, third or fourth kid, you're on your own. What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance. We have to show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy and had no choice in her condition that needs help and we should help.
"And we need to get those folks to look down at those people who choose to get into a position that makes them dependent on the government and say at some point, 'You're on your own. We may end up taking care of those babies but we're not going to take care of you.' "
N.C. Democratic Chairman David Parker said Tillis is "dividing North Carolinians instead of bringing them together."
"By trying to humiliate our most underprivileged and poverty-stricken citizens, it's clear that Thom Tillis is nothing more than a schoolyard bully - he should be ashamed of himself," Parker said.
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