When a politician unknowingly speaks in front of a live microphone, something awkward usually happens.
Such was the case Thursday when Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., was caught joking about Sen. Lindsey Graham’s bachelor status during a Senate Appropriations Committee markup. Kirk was caught on the hot mic referring to Graham, R-S.C., a presidential candidate, as a “bro with no ho.”
“I’ve been joking with Lindsey,” Kirk is heard saying on a recording first reported by The Huffington Post. “Did you see that? He’s going to have a rotating first lady. He’s a bro with no ho.”
Danielle Varallo, a Kirk spokeswoman, said the comment “was a joke between friends.” She later added that “the senator apologizes to anyone offended by his remark.”
Hours later, Graham said “Sen. Kirk said he regrets the comments. I believe that is the appropriate response.”
Kirk’s joke, with the use of the slang word for prostitute, could become an issue in his 2016 senatorial re-election bid. Two Democratic women - Rep. Tammy Duckworth and former Chicago Urban League President Andrea Zopp - have declared their candidacy for his seat. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., is considering running.
Emily’s List, a group that supports female candidates and is backing Duckworth, said in a statement “As if we needed any more evidence to show that Mark Kirk simply does not understand, support, or respect women…”
Kirk’s joke was a reference to an interview Graham gave to the Daily Mail Tuesday. He told the publication that his sister, Darline Graham Nordone, could serve as first lady “if necessary.” He added that “I’ve got a lot of friends. We’ll have a rotating first lady.”
Much has been made about Graham’s bachelor status – he’s never married – since he announced his presidential run. Fox News’ Chris Wallace Put Graham on the “psychiatrist couch” during an April interview to examine why he hasn’t gotten hitched. The Washington Post on Thursday had a story headlined “Lindsey Graham is single. So are an increasingly large number of Americans.”
Even the White House weighed in on Thursday. Press Secretary Josh Earnest, responding to a reporter’s question, said, “It’s hard for me to imagine both a Graham White House and what a Graham White House would be without a first lady. But I would obviously defer to the senator to describe what that would be.”
“It’s hard to imagine this White House without this first lady,” Earnest said. “She obviously has played such an important role, not just in carrying out the ceremonial aspects of her job but also in advocating for the kind of things that she and the president believe should be national priorities.”
Brittany Bramell, communications director for Graham’s presidential campaign, blasted Earnest’s remarks Thursday.
“Let’s imagine a White House without Barack Obama,” she said in a statement. “A White House without a president who leads from behind, who doesn’t stand up for our allies, who doesn’t listen to his military commanders.”
She added: “It’s not that hard to imagine a Graham White House, particularly with the nightmare Americans have been living through these last six years.”
If elected, Graham would be the first single president since Woodrow Wilson, whose first wife died a year into his term. He would be only the third president sworn into office unmarried. Grover Cleveland and James Buchanan are other two. Buchanan was the only president who stayed a bachelor.