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Umm, Congressman, Those Federal Executives Testifying Before You Are Not Foreigners

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Foreign Policy via Vimeo

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any more strange on Capitol Hill comes this story of an embarrassing case of mistaken identity.

On Thursday, Nisha Biswal, assistant secretary of State for south and central Asian affairs, and Arun Kumar, assistant secretary of Commerce for global markets, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. The subject was U.S.-India relations.

It was an uneventful hearing until, as John Hudson of Foreign Policy’s “The Cable,” reports, Rep. Curt Clawson, R-Fla., began his questioning of the witnesses. At that point, it quickly became clear he thought Biswal and Kumar were representing the Indian government, not that of the United States.

"I'm familiar with your country; I love your country," Clawson said, adding, "anything I can do to make the relationship with India better, I'm willing and enthusiastic about doing so." He went on to make a plea for economic cooperation: "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. I ask cooperation and commitment and priority from your government in so doing. Can I have that?"

After an awkward pause, Biswal showed off her diplomatic skills in responding: "I think your question is to the Indian government. We certainly share your sentiment, and we certainly will advocate that on behalf of the U.S."

Still, it doesn’t appear from video of the hearing that Clawson, who took office after a special election in Florida last month, recognized his mistake. Watch for yourself:

Still, give the congressman this much credit: At least he didn’t spend his time asking the witnesses about issues like whether the Marine presence on Guam might cause the island to tip over.

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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