Freshman Florida Rep. Curt Clawson made quite an awkward splash during his first day on the subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific Thursday.
The 14th District Republican mistook two high-ranking State and Commerce Department officials testifying before the body as representatives of the Indian government—seemingly confused by their Indian names and skin color.
And it went on for some time.
“I’m familiar with your country; I love your country,” Clawson effused in a video provided by Foreign Policy magazine. “I understand the complications of so many languages, and so many cultures and so many histories all rolled up in one...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 and for there to be freedom of capital...and I ask cooperation and commitment and priority from your government in so doing. Can I have that?”
The pause that follows—lasting a few moments—is excruciating.
“I...I think your question is to the Indian government,” State Department official Nisha Biswal politely explained. “We certainly share your sentiments, and we certainly will advocate that on behalf of the U.S.”
“OK,” Clawson replied with wholly unwarranted bravado. “Let’s see some progress.”
Not swayed by the gentle reminder he was speaking to a State Department official, the congressman reportedly continued to flaunt his knowledge of India and name his favorite Bollywood movies—even after ranking Democrat Rep. Eliot Engel of New York thanked both officials for their service to this country.
Foreign Policy reports it is “extremely uncommon” for representatives of foreign governments to offer sworn testimony before Congress. Not to mention both officials—Biswal and Commerce Department official Arun Kumar—were named and identified with their respective titles before the beginning of the hearing.
For what it’s worth, Clawson took responsibility for the gaffe in a statement released to USA Today Friday.
“I made a mistake in speaking before being fully briefed and I apologize,” he wrote. “ I’m a quick study, but in this case I shot an air ball.”
I guess we’ve all had rough first days on a new assignment.