Rep. Ralph Norman opened up a debate between himself and Democratic challenger Archie Parnell on Thursday afternoon by making a joke about the sexual assault allegations surrounding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
“Did y’all hear this latest late-breaking news from the Kavanaugh hearings? Ruth Bader Ginsburg came out that saying she was groped by Abraham Lincoln,” the South Carolina Republican said to the crowd at the Kiwanis Club in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
The remarks come as President Donald Trump’s choice to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court is in the midst of a scandal after Christine Blasey Ford, a professor from California, accused him of sexually assaulting her when he was 17 and she was 15. Kavanuagh has denied the allegation.
Norman’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Laughter and some applause could be heard after Norman made the remark Thursday.
While Parnell did not immediately respond to the comment during the debate, he released a response soon after it ended.
“My opponent apparently thinks sexual assault is a joke. It is not. But I guess that’s the best we can expect from someone who pulled a loaded gun on his own constituents,” Parnell said in a statement.
He was referring to an April event where Norman pulled out his loaded, personal .38-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun and laid it on the table at a diner where he was meeting with his constituents in Rock Hill.
Norman told CNN after the event that he wanted to make a point in the debate over gun violence. “I merely proved a point that guns themselves are not the issue,” he said.
Parnell has been embroiled in his own controversy concerning his relationship with a woman. In May, he admitted to abusing his ex-wife 45 years ago after his then-campaign manager obtained court documents that detailed the abuse.
“Forty-five years ago, while still a college student, I did something that I have regretted every single day since. In response to actions I feel unnecessary to specify, I lashed out and became violent with other people, including my former wife, which led to a divorce and monumental change in my life,” Parnell said at the time. “These actions were inexcusable, wrong and downright embarrassing.”
National and South Carolina Democrats repeatedly called for Parnell to drop out of the race at the time, but he ignored their wishes and won the primary on June 12. The House race had been thought of as one of the nation’s most competitive after Parnell nearly beat Norman in a 2017 special election, but those aspirations disappeared after the abuse from Parnell’s past surfaced.