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Congressman apologizes after confusing U.S. officials for foreigners

Freshman Rep. Curt Clawson was forced to apologize after he confused State and Commerce Department officials as members of the Indian government.
By Gabrielle Levy Follow @gabbilevy Contact the Author   |   July 28, 2014 at 10:57 AM
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WASHINGTON, July 28 (UPI) -- Congress' newest member made a major faux pas at a hearing last week when he apparently mistook two senior U.S. officials for Indian government representatives.

Attending his first hearing Thursday as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Rep. Curt Clawson, R-Fla., repeatedly addressed senior officials in the State and Commerce Departments as if they were testifying on behalf of the Indian government.

"I'm familiar with your country; I love your country," Clawson told Nisha Biswal, from State, and Arun Kumar, from Commerce. "Anything I can do to make the relationship with India better, I'm willing and enthusiastic about doing so."

Clawson was sworn in barely a month ago after winning a special election to replace disgraced former Florida Congressman Trey Radel, who pleaded guilty to cocaine possession in November.

Biswal, a U.S. citizen who immigrated from India with her parents, serves as the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs. Kumar, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Global Markets and Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, moved to the U.S. to attend MIT and co-founded three Silicon Valley companies.

Although Biswal and Kumar were introduced by the Asia and Pacific subcommittee chairman as U.S. government officials, Clawson asked Biswal and Kumar to encourage "their" government to make it easier for U.S. investments in India.

"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?"

"I think your question is to the Indian government," Biswal said, after an awkward pause. "We certainly share your sentiment, and we certainly will advocate that on behalf of the U.S."

While Clawson made no indication during the hearing he recognized his error, on Friday, he released a statement apologizing for his gaffe.

"I made a mistake in speaking before being fully briefed and I apologize," he said. "I'm a quick study, but in this case I shot an air ball."

Clawson was named to the Asia and Pacific Subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee July 9, thanks to his business resume and his ability to speak four languages.

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