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Democratic congressman: Kellyanne Conway ‘really looked kind of familiar’ kneeling on Oval Office couch

At the Washington Press Club Foundation Dinner, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) references a recent photo of White House adviser Kellyanne Conway. (Video: C-SPAN, Photo: AFP/Getty/C-SPAN)

This post has been updated with the latest reaction to Rep. Richmond's joke.

On the list of things not to say about any woman — let alone one of the most powerful women in Washington right now — well, this tops it.

At Wednesday's annual Washington Press Club Foundation congressional dinner — a fundraiser for journalism scholarships and a lighthearted gathering of Washington's media and congressional elite — Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) made a cringe-worthy joke about that now-famous photo of Kellyanne Conway kneeling on the Oval Office sofa.

Here's what he said (my emphasis to Richmond's remarks added in bold):

“You even mentioned Kellyanne and the picture on the sofa. But I really just want to know what was going on there, because, I won't tell anybody. And you can just explain to me that — that circumstance, because she really looked kind of familiar there in that position there. But don't answer. And I don't want you to refer back to the ’90s.”

Just a few minutes earlier, Republican Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) had said: “Has anyone seen the controversy around Kellyanne Conway and the couch in the Oval Office? Come on, people. You remember the '90s. That couch has had a whole lot of worse things. Come on now.”

According to C-SPAN coverage of the event, the room cracked up at Scott's ’90s joke. It was edgy without falling over the edge — something you couldn't repeat at a family dinner, but not directly offensive or accusatory. (In case you weren't around in the ’90s — no judgment! — he was making a reference to this.)

But neither Scott nor the rest of the room seemed amused by Richmond's “familiar” comment, which leapt over that fine line in comedy between guffaw and offensive; the truth is that most reasonable people who hear it would probably agree it is just downright offensive. If ever tempted to make a joke about a woman on her knees, just don't. (The comment was first brought to our attention by Independent Journal Review's Benny Johnson, who was in the room and who chased Richmond down afterward to ask if the joke was intended to be lewd. Richmond's response: "I just said she looked comfortable in that position. I can't let Tim get away with making a Clinton joke without making one of my own.")

Richmond's office issued a statement Thursday morning to The Post:

"Since some people have interpreted my joke to mean something that it didn’t I think it is important to clarify what I meant. Last night was night of levity. Where I grew up saying that someone is looking or acting ‘familiar’ simply means that they are behaving too comfortably.
I decided to use that joke due to the large social media backlash over her inappropriate posture considering there were more than 60 HBCU Presidents in the room."

*More on that "inappropriate posture" in a minute.

Richmond's "joke" is particularly politically resonant given that the Democratic Party has unofficially adopted a Michelle Obama-derived motto for how it's going to approach a moment in time where most political norms have been thrown out the window: “When they go low, we go high.”

It's also reminiscent of something Donald Trump had said, something that haunted him through much of the presidential race and lead to one of the most memorable debate questions of the entire campaign.

In the first GOP primary debate, then-Fox News Channel host Megyn Kelly asked Trump about his own “knees” comment:

Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant on "Celebrity Apprentice" it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who was likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?

As The Washington Post's fact checking team explained at the time:

That was a reference to a 2013 episode of "Celebrity Apprentice" in which singer Brett Michaels described how one contestant, Brande Roderick, had gotten on her knees and begged not to be fired.
Trump asked Roderick: “Excuse me, you dropped to your knees?”
“Yes,” she acknowledged.
Trump responded: “Must be a pretty picture, you dropping to your knees.”

Just like Democrats seized on Trump's comments, Republicans seized the opening Richmond gave them. The White House demanded an apology. Here's Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, firing off a few tweets, reminding us that March is Women's History Month:

(Richmond is in a safe Democratic district representing the New Orleans and Baton Rouge area, but still. Any day you can very publicly trash a Democrat is a good day for a Republican.)

*Back to Conway and Richmond's characterization of her kneeling on the couch as "inappropriate posture."

She explained to Fox Business Network that she was asked to take a photograph of the room as Trump met with leaders of the nation's historically black colleges and universities. “And I was asked to take a certain angle and was doing exactly that,” she told host Lou Dobbs. “I certainly meant no disrespect, I didn’t mean to have my feet on the couch.”

That should have been the end of that. Actually, as The Fix's Chris Cillizza wrote, any conversation about Conway sitting on her boss's couch in any form should never have begun. Who.Cares.

And yet here we are several days later, still writing about that photo. Even worse: It's to explain why you should never make a joke about a woman kneeling, something I had perhaps optimistically hoped to never have to write about in 2017 — or ever.

Controversial comments from Kellyanne Conway that made headlines

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 23: Presidential Advisor Kellyanne Conway onstage at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on February, 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)