“We birthed a nation from nothing,” he said. “Yes, there were Native Americans, but there isn't much Native American culture in American culture.”
Those comments were swiftly criticized, and Santorum was invited onto Cuomo's prime-time show Monday to explain himself.
Santorum said he “misspoke” in the sense that it wasn't clear that he was speaking in the context of the founding of the United States government.
“People say I'm trying to dismiss what happened to the Native Americans,” he said. “Far from it. The way we treated Native Americans was horrific. It goes against every bone and everything I've ever fought for as a leader in the Congress.”
Cuomo said that what upset people was “beating up the little guy” and that it perpetuated the sense that anyone who wasn't a white Christian — be they gay, Black, Native American or whatever — was somehow considered an “other.”
“You're like me, you're a mutt,” Cuomo told him. “You came here a couple of generations ago. You ain't no Pilgrim, Rick.”
Santorum said he does not try to diminish those who aren't like him.
“Just because I disagree with someone on the issue of marriage doesn't mean that I hate them, or see them as ‘less than,’” he said. “That's what I get accused of, and that's wrong.”
CNN's Don Lemon, who follow Cuomo on the network schedule and often banters with his colleague between the two shows, was visibly angered by Santorum's remarks.
Lemon said he was furious watching the interview in his office and wanted to apologize to viewers who were insulted by it.
“I can't believe the first words out of his mouth weren't ‘I’m sorry, I said something ignorant, I need to learn about the history of this country,'” Lemon said. “No contrition. Didn't talk about, you know, the suffering the Native Americans have had to deal with in this country. Rick Santorum, really? Did he actually think it was a good idea for him to come on television and try to whitewash the whitewash that he whitewashed?”
There was no immediate comment from Santorum to Lemon's remarks.
Sharp said anger against CNN was building in Native American communities and that a petition circulating calling for Santorum's firing has more than 15,000 signatures.