Sen. Joe Donnelly (D., Ind.) praised his minority staffers during a debate Tuesday, awkwardly suggesting they did so despite their race.
"Our state director is Indian American, but he does an amazing job," Donnelly said. "Our director of all constituent services, she’s African American, but she does an even more incredible job than you can ever imagine."
Donnelly was making a broader point about giving all Americans an opportunity to succeed when he made the comment. He credited his non-white staff’s success to their talents, not "their race or their religion." He emphasized that they were good at their jobs but only able to show it because he gave them the "opportunity," adding, "And that’s my responsibility."
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Donnelly made the comments in Indianapolis during the final Indiana Senate debate before next week’s midterm elections.
Donnelly is one of the vulnerable Democrats facing a serious Republican challenge Nov. 6. Polls show Donnelly trailing Republican Mike Braun, a former state legislator.
Donnelly has fashioned himself as a Democrat willing to work with Republican legislators and President Donald Trump. During the debate, Donnelly signaled he would even consider changing birthright citizenship, an issue the president spurred debate on Tuesday.
Watch the full debate here. Donnelly’s full response:
We want everybody to have a chance in Indiana and in America, and my offices reflect that – both on the campaign side and on the Senate side. Our state director is Indian American, but he does an amazing job. Our director of all constituent services, she’s African American, but she does an even more incredible job than you can ever imagine. It isn’t their race or their religion, it’s the incredible person that they are. But at the same time, they have to have a chance. they have to have an opportunity, and that’s my responsibility. And I’ve done it in every office I’ve had, and I’ve done it in every campaign I’ve had, because my campaigns and our Senate office should reflect the face of Indiana.
Donnelly responded to his debate comments on Wednesday. He said he simply misspoke and meant to say "and" instead of "but."
UPDATE 3:39 p.m.: This post was updated with Donnelly's statement that he misspoke.