It was newly minted Ambassador Scott Brown’s first day in Samoa, and the day’s activities seemed drawn right from the foreign emissary playbook.
The former Massachusetts senator and his wife had spent the day at a site with volunteers from the Peace Corps, part of the organization’s 50th-anniversary celebration. And on that evening in June, they got dressed up for the organization’s gala celebration.
A haka was performed, elaborate local dishes were served — and Brown made offhand remarks that sparked an official State Department inquiry and have critics saying he degrades women.
Brown told many of the people at the function that they looked beautiful, according to the Associated Press. And he told one server in particular that back in the United States, she could make hundreds of dollars in the hospitality industry.
Now, four months into his ambassadorship, Brown finds himself playing defense.
In a video interview with the New Zealand news website Stuff, his wife by his side, he tried to cast his words as innocent compliments that had been taken the wrong way.
“We saw these kids prior to and they were all dirty and kind of grungy,” he said. “Well, we walked [into the banquet] and everyone really was dressed to the nines. They all looked great. Gail looked great. I was dressed up. I said, ‘You guys look beautiful. You look really handsome, sir.’ And apparently somebody took offense to that. Fine. I did say that. Gail and I did say it.”
“And when someone came over and served food, I said, 'You can make hundreds of dollars in the service industry. Waitress. Bartending. Sales. You guys are doing a great job.' And somebody took offense to that, as well.”
The State Department and the embassies in New Zealand and Samoa didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment about the investigation.
In the interview, Brown said after the inquiry that he was told: "'You know, listen, you’re not Scott Brown from Rye, New Hampshire, any more. You’re an ambassador, and you have to be culturally aware of different cultures, and different sensitivities,’ and I'm always welcoming that kind of advice.”
But he also said he felt the complaint was politically motivated. Neither he nor the State Department revealed who made it.
“Politics is a blood sport back home, and at this event, there were a lot of people who didn’t like the president,” he said. “Sadly, it’s politics. And it is what it is.”
But critics weren’t as nice to Brown, who was one of Trump’s first ambassador appointments.
Hey, Scott Brown, isn't the point of being an ambassador to be understanding of another nation's culture?
— Roberta Steve (@Bertie913) October 25, 2017
Anyone surprised by what Scott Brown said didn't listen to him when he ran against Martha Coakley or Elizabeth Warren. He's a sexist pig.
— regdog (@TierzaChels) October 25, 2017
Many dug up past incidents that they say point to a pattern of misstatements or degrading words toward women.
In 2012, while campaigning for reelection, as the Boston Globe reported, Brown toured a brewery with Boston Herald reporter Hillary Chabot and invited her to taste a beer: “Try this one. I’ve seen you in the bars before, don’t act like you’ve never been to a bar. We’re gonna have her dancing in the back of the truck.’’
The comments sparked outrage, which was amplified when, shortly after sampling beers at the brewery, Brown hopped into his pickup and drove away.
And in 2011, when Elizabeth Warren challenged Brown for one of Massachusetts’s Senate seats, a debate moderator asked a lighthearted question about Brown posing nude for Cosmopolitan in 1982 to make money, according to the HuffPost.
When Warren was asked how she paid for college, she noted that she worked a part-time job and borrowed money to go to a public university. “I kept my clothes on,” she said.
Brown later quipped on a radio show: “Thank God.”