Meet Bob Etheridge, the North Carolina House Democrat who got caught on camera last week roughing up an activist affiliated with Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government project.
Etheridge has since apologized for his behavior, though that’s done little to stop the fallout from the altercation. Republicans are hammering him, and Democrats are hitting back at Republicans for setting up Etheridge and trying to provoke other members as well.
But who is Etheridge?
Not just some anonymous back bencher. He was the Democratic party’s top choice to challenge Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) in 2010 but ultimately declined. He voted for President Obama’s health care bill, and other major Obama initiatives this Congress, and as a tobacco farmer, he would like to see U.S.-Cuba relations thaw. He’s a New Democrat, and refers to himself as a “fiscal conservative” but in many respects, he’s a typical Southern Democrat, with a right-leaning stance on social issues like abortion and gay rights.
Etheridge was first elected to Congress in 1996. He was re-elected handily in 2008.
In the video, which we posted here, Etheridge is approached by two people, claiming to be college students, asking him whether he supports Obama’s agenda. Etheridge takes none too kindly to their inquiry and grabs one of them, roughly, demanding to know who he is, where he goes to school, and what project he’s working on. Neither man responded.
Now, Republicans are turning it into a political issue, pressing White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs—Etheridge’s former spokesman—to speak up about the altercation.
In response, Democrats are urging caution, noting that Breitbart and his associates have a history of ambushing members and other political foes under false pretenses and editing video footage to present the fallout in the worst possible light.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.