WASHINGTON — Being a member of Congress opens a lot of doors, but apparently not all of them.
Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., told Lincoln County Republicans that he got turned away at the gym in Iraq's Green Zone, the fortified area where he and other members of Congress stayed during a recent visit to the war-torn nation.
McHenry said that after a day of jumping on and off Blackhawk helicopters wearing flack jackets and Kevlar helmets, he had trouble sleeping in the pool house of a former palace of Saddam Hussein. So he tried to get some exercise.
"Sure enough, the guard wouldn't let me in," McHenry told the dinner crowd, according to an audio tape of his March 29 speech given to McClatchy Newspapers by his GOP challenger for the 10th District seat, military attorney Lance Sigmon of Newton.
"He said I didn't have the correct credentials," McHenry continued. "It's 5 o'clock in the morning and I haven't had sleep. I was not very happy with this two-bit security guard."
McHenry said he asked to speak to the guard's supervisor, but 30 minutes later, "after the supervisor wasn't happy with me, they escorted me back to my room."
"It happens," he told the crowd. "I guess I didn't need to work out anyway."
Sigmon, whose campaign also posted a video of part of the speech on YouTube.com, expressed disgust with the incident, saying in a press release that it showed "obvious contempt for a guard's duties" and "his belief that being a congressman makes him immune to the rules."
Sigmon also accused McHenry of exaggerating his proximity to danger by mentioning that someone was killed in a nearby attack, but news reports and other lawmakers confirmed the account that McHenry told the local Republicans — that the area he was staying in came under rocket attack and that one American civilian died in the Green Zone that day.
"I regret the poor choice of words I used to describe the foreign contractor, but that does not give my opponent the right to dishonor the supreme sacrifice of an American hero by denying that he was killed, just to score political points," McHenry said in a written statement.
McHenry's Democratic opponent, Daniel Johnson of Hickory, said the lawmaker owed the guard an apology for calling him a "two-bit security guard."