The Gaffes That Stopped Us in Our Tracks in 2014

Wrong names, bad references, and sneaking away all break into our list of top gaffes.

WATERLOO, IA - SEPTEMBER 27: U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) (L) votes during early voting at the Black Hawk County Courthouse on September 27, 2012 in Waterloo, Iowa. Early voting starts today in Iowa where in the 2008 election 36 percent of voters cast an early ballot.
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Lauren Fox
Dec. 26, 2014, midnight

An­oth­er year, an­oth­er sea­son of off-the-cuff re­marks gone awry. This year’s polit­ic­al gaffes ranged from stump-speech stumbles to Obama name-drop­ping act­ors who don’t really ex­ist.

The Time Hil­lary Clin­ton Tried to Pre­tend She’s Just Like Us

Seek­ing to rid her­self of her repu­ta­tion as a Wash­ing­ton in­sider and de­fend her high pub­lic speak­ing fees, Hil­lary Clin­ton struck a nerve in June of this year when she told Di­ane Saw­yer she and Bill Clin­ton were “dead broke” when they moved out of the White House in 2001.

“We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt,” Clin­ton said. “We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece to­geth­er the re­sources for mort­gages, for houses, for Chelsea’s edu­ca­tion.”

The com­ment erup­ted a firestorm of con­ser­vat­ive cri­ti­cism. Clin­ton even­tu­ally apo­lo­gized, telling Jorge Ramos in a sub­sequent in­ter­view the while the com­ment was still true, “it was in­art­ful.”

“We are so suc­cess­ful, and we are so blessed by the suc­cess we’ve had,” Clin­ton said.

That Time Michelle Obama Didn’t Know the Name of the Can­did­ate She Stumped For

She was “thrilled” to in­tro­duce “her friend” and the” next sen­at­or from Iowa,” but Michelle Obama wasn’t quite right when she an­nounced “Bruce Bailey” was run­ning for of­fice. It wasn’t just the first in­tro­duc­tion, however, she con­tin­ued to call him Bruce Bailey un­til the audi­ence shouted “Bra­ley” — his ac­tu­al name — back at her.

The first lady said she “was los­ing it,” “get­ting old,” and that she’d been on the road too much stump­ing for can­did­ates. She wasn’t the only one to make the mis­take. Former Pres­id­ent Clin­ton also urged a crowd at the Har­kin steak fry to elect “Bruce Bailey.”

On the cam­paign trail, Bra­ley had made his own high-pro­file mis­take when he mocked Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Chuck Grass­ley for be­ing “a farm­er from Iowa who nev­er went to law school.” Bra­ley’s point was that Grass­ley was not cap­able of tak­ing the helm of the Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. Bra­ley lost his race for the Sen­ate to Joni Ernst on elec­tion night.

The Time Biden Ref­er­enced Bob Pack­wood in a Speech About Vi­ol­ence Against Wo­men

It’s part of his per­sona, but Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden didn’t rid him­self of his repu­ta­tion as a gaffe-prone politi­cian in 2014. Dur­ing a ma­jor speech be­fore a Demo­crat­ic wo­men’s group, Biden cel­eb­rated the Vi­ol­ence Against Wo­men’s Act and blas­ted the real­ity that the U.S. was still bat­tling do­mest­ic vi­ol­ence at all. “Nev­er, nev­er, nev­er,” he said was do­mest­ic vi­ol­ence a wo­man’s fault. But, in his re­marks he also noted how he missed hav­ing more mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans to work with in the Sen­ate.

Biden then dropped the name of former Sen. Bob Pack­wood, who resigned from of­fice in 1995 amid ac­cus­a­tions that he’d sexu­ally har­assed and as­saul­ted wo­men. The ref­er­ence was, of course, to Pack­wood’s will­ing­ness to work across the aisle, but it was an odd ref­er­ence for a speech that was mostly filled with heart­felt rhet­or­ic about pro­tect­ing wo­men’s safety.

That Time Rand Paul Awk­wardly Shirked Away From a Dream­er

Ken­tucky Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Rand Paul wants to see im­mig­ra­tion re­form. He just did not want to be caught on tape be­ing con­fron­ted about it. Dur­ing a pic­nic in Iowa this sum­mer, Erika An­diola, a “Dream­er” who was brought to the coun­try il­leg­ally as a child, ap­proached Paul and tea-party Rep. Steve King of Iowa. In video foot­age, Paul shakes An­diola’s hand and then jumps up out of his seat mid-bite and rushes away in or­der to avoid the heated ex­change.

The video of Paul sneak­ing away went vir­al, but the tense dis­cus­sion between King and An­diola that fol­lows may show why Paul, a po­ten­tial 2016 can­did­ate, may not have wanted to take the polit­ic­al risk of hav­ing to lay out a de­tailed im­mig­ra­tion plan right then.

In the foot­age, An­diola chal­lenges King, who has of­ten fought against al­low­ing Dream­ers to stay in the U.S. She asks him why and of­fers to let him rip apart her de­ferred ac­tion card that gives her leg­al status to stay. She also called King out for a com­ment he made in 2013 when he said that for every Dream­er “who’s a va­le­dictori­an, there’s an­oth­er 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds, and they’ve got calves the size of can­ta­loupes be­cause they’re haul­ing 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

King said he was not talk­ing about An­diola when he made the com­ment.

“You are very good at Eng­lish, so you know what I am say­ing,” King says to An­diola.

“I was raised in the United States,” An­diola says.

“Right, so you can un­der­stand the Eng­lish lan­guage; so don’t act like you don’t,” King says.

“I spoke of drug smug­glers. Now, you are not go­ing to tell me you are one of them are you?”

The Time a Fresh­man House Mem­ber Thought U.S. Gov­ern­ment Of­fi­cials Were For­eign­ers

It’s tough to be the new guy, but that was still not enough to keep For­eign Policy from point­ing out that Rep. Curt Clawson, R-Fla., thought top U.S. of­fi­cials were ac­tu­ally rep­res­ent­at­ives of the In­di­an gov­ern­ment this year.

Dur­ing a House For­eign Af­fairs sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing in Ju­ly, Clawson mis­takenly thought that State De­part­ment of­fi­cial Nisha De­sai Bisw­al and Com­merce of­fi­cial Ar­un Ku­mar were testi­fy­ing on be­half of In­dia.

“I am fa­mil­i­ar with your coun­try. I love your coun­try,” he said smil­ing as he pro­ceeded to his ques­tions.

“So 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. “Can I have that?”

Look­ing mys­ti­fied, both Bisw­al and Ku­mar were si­lent for sev­er­al seconds be­fore Bisw­al chimes in to try and cla­ri­fy that she is ac­tu­ally a U.S. gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial.

“I think your ques­tion is to the In­di­an gov­ern­ment,” she says. “We cer­tainly share your sen­ti­ments, and we were cer­tainly ad­voc­ate that on be­half of the U.S. gov­ern­ment.”

“OK, I see some pro­gress,” Clawson says.

Fol­low­ing the hear­ing, the law­maker apo­lo­gized in a state­ment to USA Today say­ing, “I made a mis­take in speak­ing be­fore be­ing fully briefed and I apo­lo­gize. I’m a quick study, but in this case, I shot an air ball.”

The Time Obama Said He Had No Strategy to De­feat IS­IS

He was wear­ing a tan suit, so maybe that had something to do with it, but Pres­id­ent Obama’s com­ment dur­ing a press con­fer­ence in Au­gust that the U.S. gov­ern­ment did not “have a strategy yet” to de­feat IS­IS fight­ers struck a nerve in Wash­ing­ton.

“I don’t want to put the cart be­fore the horse,” Obama said. “We don’t have a strategy yet.”

At that point, the bru­tal be­head­ing of journ­al­ist James Fo­ley had happened, the United States had un­leashed air­strikes on IS­IS tar­gets in Ir­aq, and of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton were in the midst of a de­bate about wheth­er to in­ter­vene in Syr­ia.

Obama, however, said his Cab­in­et was still look­ing at op­tions.

“We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans, that we’re de­vel­op­ing them. At that point, I will con­sult with Con­gress and make sure that their voices are heard,” Obama said. “There’s no point in me ask­ing for ac­tion on the part of Con­gress be­fore I know ex­actly what it is that is go­ing to be re­quired for us to get the job done.”

The Time Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes Re­fused to Say Whom She Voted For

In the end Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes lost migh­tily to GOP Sen. Mitch Mc­Con­nell in Ken­tucky, but a cam­paign-trail gaffe cer­tainly didn’t help her case.

Fa­cing voters in a state where Pres­id­ent Obama won only four of 120 counties in 2012, Grimes was acutely aware of the real­ity that in Ken­tucky, any as­so­ci­ation with Obama was polit­ic­al pois­on.

So when an ed­it­or­i­al board at Louis­ville’s The Cour­i­er-Journ­al asked her four times whom she voted for, things got awk­ward. In­stead of simply say­ing “Obama,” Grimes re­fused to an­swer. As the act­ing Ken­tucky sec­ret­ary of state, she said it was a key pri­or­ity of hers to “pro­tect the sanc­tity of the bal­lot box.”

The gaffe kept haunt­ing her, however, as re­port­ers con­tin­ued to ask whom she voted for. In­stead of the an­swer be­ing un­der the radar, it be­came a ma­jor point of con­ten­tion in her cam­paign at the end.


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