South Carolina Republican Rep. Ralph Norman drew ire Thursday night when he made a joke pertaining to the sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Christine Blasey Ford, a California psychology professor, has publicly alleged Kavanaugh held her on a bed and attempted to forcibly remove her clothes when they were teenagers at a house party in the 1980s.
Opening a Kiwanis Club debate with his opponent in Rock Hill, South Carolina, Thursday, Norman used the ongoing controversy surrounding Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing to make a joke, The Post and Courier reported.
“Did y’all hear this latest late-breaking news from the Kavanaugh hearings?” the South Carolinian said. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg came out that she was groped by Abraham Lincoln.”
Democratic National Committee associate chairman and former South Carolina party chairman Jaime Harrison said the comment was “disgusting but coming from Norman … expected.”
On Twitter, Norman claimed his comment was made “to add a bit of levity to a very serious debate” and to “point to the circus-like atmosphere that Washington, D.C. has become.” He blamed Democrats and the media for “adding more clowns and distractions to the current circus.”
“People really need to learn to lighten up,” he said. “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.”
But Archie Parnell, Norman’s Democratic opponent in the 5th district, criticized the remarks on social media.
“My opponent apparently thinks sexual assault is a joke. It is not,” Parnell said. “But I guess that’s the best we can expect from someone who pulled a loaded gun on his own constituents.”
In April, Norman was heavily criticized for pulling out a loaded handgun and placing it on the table during a “coffee with constituents” meeting in Rock Hill.
“I’m not going to be a Gabby Giffords,” Norman said then, referring to the former Arizona congresswoman who was shot outside a grocery store in 2011.
Parnell, too, has drawn ire in the election. In May, court documents were revealed showing he abused his ex-wife in the 1970’s.
Kathleen Parnell said the marriage ended after her then-husband allegedly made “unwarranted accusations” and beat her several times. She claimed in divorce papers Parnell used a tire iron one night to break a glass door to enter an apartment where she was hiding from him. He then allegedly made accusations against his wife and attacked her several times. She was beaten again later the same night, according to The Post and Courier.
Parnell has called his actions “inexcusable, wrong and downright embarrassing.”
“Forty-five years ago, while still a college student, I did something that I have regretted every single day since,” Parnell said in a statement. “In response to actions I feel unnecessary to specify, I lashed out and became violent with other people, including my former wife, which led to a divorce and monumental change in my life.”
South Carolina GOP chairman Drew McKissick defended Norman’s joke while alluding to Parnell’s past misconduct.
“The joke is Democrats running the same old playbook of last minute attacks against conservatives, while at the same time supporting a candidate for Congress that actually did commit assault against a woman,” McKissick told The Post and Courier.
Fox News’ Terace Garnier and Lukas Mikelionis contributed to this report.