Things got very awkward very quickly during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Thursday when a freshman Republican congressman repeatedly mistook to two senior U.S. government officials as being representatives from the Indian government.
“I am familiar with your country,” Representative Curt Clawson tells the State Department’s Nisha Biswal and Commerce official Arun Kumar. “I love your country….And I understand the complications of so many languages and so many cultures and so many histories all rolled up in one.”
Clawson then urges Biswal and Kumar to urge “your capital” – referring to the Indian capital city of New Delhi – to ease trade restrictions between the two countries. “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 said. “I ask cooperation and commitment and priority from your government in so doing. Can I have that?” he asked the pair.
“I think your question is to the Indian government,” replies Biswal after a somewhat lengthy pause. “And we certainly share those sentiments and we certainly will advocate for that on behalf of the U.S.”
“Of course,” Clawson said in response. “O.K. Let’s see some progress.”
It’s unclear if Clawson ever realized his error during the course of the hearing. Many commentators have noted that it is extremely rare for foreign dignitaries to testify before Congress. Foreign Policy’s The Cable, which broke the story, noted that this was the first time Clawson had sat on subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, having just been appointed on July 9.
Clawson – who identifies as a member of the Tea Party – won a special election last month to replace Congressman Trey Radel.
After Clawson’s gaffe, New York Congressman Eliot Engel appeared to deliberately take a dig at his error when it was his turn to address both Biswal and Kumar.
“Thank you both for your service to our country, it’s very much appreciated,” the subcommittee’s reigning Democrat told them.
In an interview with The News-Press published online late Friday, Clawson acknowledged his error. “I made a mistake in speaking before being fully briefed and I apologize,” Clawson told Florida paper. ” I’m a quick study but in this case I shot an air ball.”