Let's just agree that one of the most cringe-worthy moments a House hearing has ever had to endure was this Thursday, when Rep. Curt Clawson (R-Fla.) spoke to two U.S. officials as though they were Indian representatives. To be fair, it's tough being the new kid. It's perhaps especially hard when it's your first month as a Congressman, and your first day sitting on the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. It’s easy to get a little overwhelmed, mixed up, hell, even a little accidentally racist.
Here's how it went down: According to Foreign Policy, the new Florida representative got a little, er, carried away
during Thursday's session, which was looking at improvements that could be made between the U.S. and India. Clawson was absolutely full of ideas — he just, you know, addressed them to the wrong people.
Clawson spoke to the two (dark-skinned) U.S. officials with great respect. He told them he knew and loved their country, and said how enthusiastic he was to build a partnership. He empathized with the difficulties of having many cultures and languages and history mixed into one place. He asked them for their commitment and cooperation. He smiled, and was courteous, and didn't at all notice that they were not, in fact, members of the Indian government.
“I am familiar with your country, I love your country,” Clawson said
to Nisha Biswal (who happens to work in the State Department) and Arun Kumar (who is Assistant Secretary of
Commerce for Global Markets). "Anything I can do to make the relationship with India
better, I'm willing and enthusiastic about doing so."
And no, it didn't end there. He continued: “Just as your capital is welcome here to produce good-paying jobs in the U.S., I’d like our capital to be welcome there." He looked hard at the two high-ranking U.S. government officials. "I ask cooperation and commitment and priority from your government in so doing. Can I have that?”
Looking satisfied, he smiled at the nice-looking Indian government representatives, who weren't Indian representatives at all, and waited for their response. Of course, they didn't quite know how to respond, being fellow American citizens who work for the American government. After a few pregnant seconds, though, Biswal finally bit the bullet and generously said: "I think your question is to the Indian government. We certainly share your sentiment, and we certainly will advocate that on behalf of the U.S."
While it's not quite clear if Clawson got it at the time, he was certainly alerted to his gaffe at some point soon after, telling USA Today: “I made a mistake in speaking before being fully briefed and I apologize. I’m a quick study, but in this case I shot an air ball."
Er, yah. You can say that again.