Election 2020

Congressman on Supreme Court Sexual Assault Joke: 'Learn to Lighten Up'

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) leaves the House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington on June 13, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

A South Carolina congressman made a joke about the Kavanaugh sexual assault allegations — roping in another Supreme Court justice — during a campaign debate today, with the host Kiwanis Club trying to distance itself from the remarks.

Freshman Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), who won a June 2017 special election to fill the seat of Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, faces his opponent from that race, Democratic attorney Archie Parnell, again this November.

According to the Post and Courier, Norman and Parnell were at a Kiwanis Club debate today when Norman told the crowd, “Did y’all hear this latest late-breaking news from the Kavanaugh hearings? Ruth Bader Ginsburg came out that she was groped by Abraham Lincoln.”

“My opponent apparently thinks sexual assault is a joke. It is not. But I guess that’s the best we can expect from someone who pulled a loaded gun on his own constituents,” tweeted Parnell.

During a coffee with constituents event in April, Norman pulled out his Smith & Wesson and placed it on the table while talking with representatives from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. The activists said they felt unsafe by his move; Norman said afterward, “I’m not going to be a Gabby Giffords.”

The Kiwanis Club tweeted today, “Kiwanis clubs exist to help children. One way to help is to understand candidates’ positions on relevant issues; many Kiwanis clubs hold open forums like this for political candidates. Statements such as the one from Rep. Ralph Norman do not reflect The Objects of Kiwanis.”

Norman tweeted that his remark was “meant to add a bit of levity to a very serious debate between me and my Democrat opponent and to point to the circus-like atmosphere that Washington DC has become.”

“People really need to learn to lighten up,” the congressman added. “Clearly my opponent understood it that way since for the next hour we engaged in a substantive discussion about our many differences without mention of my comments. Once again, the Democrats and the media have taken an event that was newsworthy for so many substantive reasons and are now only adding more clowns and distractions to the current circus.”

Before this year’s Democratic primary in South Carolina, the Post and Courier reported that Parnell’s 1973 divorce was filed “on the ground of physical cruelty,” with no criminal charges filed against either party but the wife obtaining a restraining order. Prominent Democrats dropped their support of Parnell after the revelation; he went on to win the nomination.

Norman tweeted at Parnell today, “Perhaps we should have a debate about your own abuse and harassment of women, Parnell.”