Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly is taking heat for his response to a question about diversity in the U.S. Senate debate Tuesday night.
Donnelly, who is running against Republican Mike Braun and Libertarian Lucy Brenton, talked about how he has hired minorities to work on his campaign and in his Washington, D.C., office as proof that he supports diversity.
But when trying to praise the staffers, Donnelly used the word “but” instead of the word “and,” which seemed to contradict the point he was trying to make.
“We want everybody to have a chance in Indiana and in America, and my offices reflect that— both on the campaign side and on the Senate side,” Donnelly said. “Our state director is Indian American, but he does an amazing job. Our director of all constituent services, she’s African American, but she does an even more incredible job than you could ever imagine.”
Donnelly followed that by talking about the need to be inclusive.
“It isn’t their race or their religion. It’s the incredible person that they are,” Donnelly said. “But at the same time they have to have a chance, they have to have an opportunity, and that’s my responsibility. And I’ve done it in every office I’ve had and I’ve done it in every campaign I’ve had because my campaigns and our Senate office should reflect the face of Indiana.”
Neither Braun or Brenton drew attention to the comment during the debate, but the quote quickly spread online as people noticed the gaffe. The comment has already been reported on by Breitbart News and the Washington Post.
President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., described the comment in a tweet Wednesday morning as “thinly veiled racism.”
This is nothing more than thinly veiled racism from @JoeForIndiana. Just imagine the coverage this would be getting if he were a Republican, but because he’s a Democrat…Virtually crickets from the media. #InSen pic.twitter.com/5cK7iwGKbz
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) October 31, 2018
Tony Katz, of WIBC-FM 93.1, questioned whether this gaffe could be Donnelly’s “Mourdock moment,” referencing the final debate between Donnelly and Republican Richard Mourdock in 2012, when Mourdock seemed to suggest that rape is something God intended to happen.
Another Twitter user said it shows that Donnelly thinks those individuals “are only a second class” to him.
Others cracked jokes after the Indiana Democratic Party announced that former President Barack Obama will be in Gary on Sunday to campaign for Donnelly and other Democrats.
i can hear joe donnelly now: "barrack obama is an african-american, but he was a great president anyway."
— jim mayer (@mjmgriffith) October 31, 2018
Donnelly responded to questions about the comment on Wednesday morning and admitted he misspoke.
"I misspoke, I meant to say ‘and’ instead of ‘but,’” Donnelly said in a written statement. “That would have communicated what I have tried to do my entire life: that I make a habit to seek out and promote people of color for both my campaign and official staff.”