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U.S. representative apologizes for 'tar baby' comment

By Becky Brittain, CNN White House Producer
  • Rep. Doug Lamborn said being associated with the president would be "touching a tar baby"
  • Lamborn regrets any misunderstanding, his spokeswoman says
  • The phrase can refer to a sticky situation or be a derogatory term for African-Americans

Washington (CNN) -- A member of Congress has apologized after saying that being associated with President Barack Obama would be similar to touching a "tar baby."

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, sent a letter to Obama "apologizing for using a term some find insensitive," he said in a statement Monday.

Lamborn made the comment during an interview on a Denver radio station about proposals to raise the nation's debt ceiling in exchange for spending cuts.

"Even if some people say, 'Well, the Republicans should have done this or they should have done that,' they will hold the president responsible," Lamborn said. "Now I don't want to even have to be associated with him. It's like touching a tar baby and you get, you get it, you know ... you are stuck and you are part of the problem now and you can't get away."

The term "tar baby" is a reference to 19th century Uncle Remus stories about Br'er Rabbit, as set down by Joel Chandler Harris. It can refer to a sticky problem or situation but also is understood as a derogatory term for African-Americans.

"Lamborn was attempting to tell a radio audience last week that the president's policies have created an economic quagmire for the nation and are responsible for the dismal economic conditions our country faces," said the statement from Lamborn's office.

"He regrets that he chose the phrase 'tar baby,' rather than the word 'quagmire.' The congressman is confident that the president will accept his heartfelt apology."

Lamborn's spokeswoman, Catherine Mortensen, said Monday that the comment was misunderstood.

Lamborn is not the first to run into trouble with the phrase. Mitt Romney referred to the Big Dig construction project in Boston as a "tar baby" in 2006 during a fundraiser on the campaign trail. And Sen. John McCain also used the term during his campaign for president. Both men apologized.

The White House has not commented on Lamborn's remark.