Hank Johnson Worries Guam Could "Capsize" After Marine Buildup

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) is raising some eyebrows with a comment he made about the U.S. territory of Guam during a House Armed Services Committee hearing last Thursday.

In a discussion regarding a planned military buildup on the Pacific island, Johnson expressed some concerns about the plans to Adm. Robert Willard, head of the U.S. Pacific fleet.

"My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize," Johnson said. Willard paused and replied, "We don't anticipate that."

Online pundits have wasted no time lampooning the congressman for his remarks.

"Presumably, when you're the head guy of a major fleet for a big-time navy, you've got plenty of other ways of filling your time other than reassuring congressmen on whether miscellaneous land masses are likely to tip over and sink," Mark Steyn wrote at the National Review Online. "But it's business as usual in Congress."

The blog Left Coast Rebel said, "Call it a new low, a new 'tipping point' - even in the halls of Congress, if you will."

According to the Hill, a spokesman for Johnson responded to the incident by saying the congressman is concerned the influx of military personnel will overwhelm the island's infrastructure and ecosystem.

If Johnson's remarks were meant figuratively, he had a legitimate point.

The United States plans to move thousands of Marines and their families, about 8,000 people in all, to the small island of Guam, which has a current population of about 180,000. To prepare for the military buildup, the government is constructing new facilities on the island like an additional Marine base and a new airfield.

At the peak of construction, Guam's population would increase by 79,000 people, or about 45 percent, the Washington Post reported. The Environmental Protection Agency has reportedly said the military buildup could trigger island-wide water shortages and overload sewage systems and other public utilities.

Update 6:30 p.m. ET: Johnson released a statement on Thursday saying he was joking, according to CNN.

"The subtle humor of this obviously metaphorical reference to a ship capsizing illustrated my concern about the impact of the planned military buildup on this small tropical island," the statement said.

Comments

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.