A Maryland lawmaker who has been a lightning rod for controversy was denounced again on Thursday following a speech on the House floor that sought to tie a mental health care bill to the extermination of 6 million Jews by the Nazis.
Del. Daniel L. Cox’s comments came during Holocaust Remembrance Day, making them especially painful to critics, including a top-ranking lawmaker and a Jewish community leader.
Cox, a Republican who represents portions of Frederick and Carroll counties, rose to speak during floor debate on House Bill 132, a measure by Del. Heather Bagnall (D-Anne Arundel) that would lower the age of consent for minors to seek care for certain mental health services without parental permission to as young as 12.
Bill opponents argued that the legislation interfered with parental rights and put children at risk.
Wearing a mask that depicted the Nuremberg Trials that were held following World War II, Cox began by saying that “one of the things that was interesting and very sad in the Nuremberg Trials was the fact that medical professionals interfered with parental rights.”
One outcome of those trials, Cox argued, was passage of the European Commission on Human Rights, “guaranteeing that never again will the state and the health care community interfere with the rights of parents and the right to family — and that’s what this bill does.”
Cox’s comments were then interrupted by House Health and Government Operations Chair Shane E. Pendergrass (D-Howard).
“I am enormously affronted as a Jew, when you in any way compare this bill to the Holocaust, especially today,” she said, facing Cox directly. “Shame on you.”
Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) directed the lawmaker to turn his focus to the legislation.
At the urging of other members of the House, Cox rose a second time, during the roll call on the bill, “to apologize for any improper comparison — that was not my intent at all.”
Ronald Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, slammed the Republican lawmaker for his remarks.
“To compare the experience of American children seeking mental health services to children who endured unspeakable suffering and torture in concentration camps and other hells created by the Nazi regime is unconscionable,” he said in a statement.
“Jewish children did not receive medical treatment by Nazi doctors — they were victims of gruesome and often deadly medical experiments and other horrific crimes against humanity that were painstakingly documented during the Nuremberg Trials. The children tortured by monsters like Dr. Joseph Mengele were not victimized because their parents lacked ‘parental rights’ — but rather because they were Jews and members of other persecuted minority groups,” he added.
Halber called on House leaders to “condemn this offensive comparison and to hold Delegate Cox responsible for his reprehensible remarks on this sacred day.”
Cox did not immediately return an email request for comment on Thursday.
During his follow-up remarks, he cited his respect for the Jewish faith.
“When I walked the halls of Auschwitz, I want you to know I wept,” he told the chamber.
He then returned to the theme of parental rights, which House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery) said was poorly received.
“It seemed to many people like he doubled-down, rather than apologizing,” Luedtke said in an interview.
Cox faced calls for his expulsion from the General Assembly after he arranged transportation for constituents to President Trump’s rally on Jan. 6 that led to the failed insurrection attempt against the government.
As protesters swarmed the U.S. Capitol, forcing the evacuation of the House chamber, Cox tweeted that then-Vice President Mike Pence was “a traitor,” presumably for failing to block the certification of President Biden’s victory.
If the lawmaker faced any sanction by House leadership, it has not been made public. Issues involving lawmakers’ conduct are handled by the legislature’s ethics committee, whose proceedings are generally behind closed doors.
Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. at the time denounced his fellow Republican as “a QAnon conspiracy theorist who says crazy things every day.”
The mental health bill eventually passed, 92-44. Moments later, a companion measure sponsored by Sen. Malcolm L. Augustine (D-Prince George’s) passed 92-43.
Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for those in crisis or those looking to help someone else: 1-800-273-8255. The Crisis Text Line offers emotional crisis support at 741741.