At the top of Monday's NBC Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie seized on controversies involving Republican members of Congress and proclaimed: "Hot water....Two distractions for the GOP with the convention now just one week away." Introducing coverage of the incidents, fill-in cost Lester Holt similarly declared: "...some high-profile distractions for the Republican Party. Two congressmen under fire this morning, one for what he did, the other for what he said."
Chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell touted a Politico report detailing Kansas Republican Kevin Yoder skinny dipping during a 2011 trip to Israel and concluded that it would be "a potential embarrassment to a large group of House Republicans about their behavior on a foreign trip."
A sound bite was included of Politico's Mike Allen enthusiastically promoting the year-old story: "At a time when people dislike, distrust Congress anyway, here you have lawmakers, their aides in one of the most sensitive parts of the world swimming in the Sea of Galilee, some in their underwear, one of them nude. Some of the people even took a team picture afterwards."
At the end of her report, Mitchell corrected a glaring error in the original Politico item: "Now there was nothing illegal about the excursion. And contrary to reports, the FBI did not investigate and would not have had any jurisdiction."
Capitol Hill correspondent Kelly O'Donnell followed Mitchell with a story about Missouri Republican congressman and Senate candidate Todd Akin being "swept up by national attention" after remarking that "legitimate rape" does not result in pregnancy. O'Donnell then attempted to connect the statement to the Romney/Ryan campaign: "The most powerful Republicans in the party, who also oppose abortion rights, quickly distanced themselves from Akin."
News reader Natalie Morales made sure to keep the theme going with identical news briefs at the top of the 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. hours that featured the on-screen graphic, "GOP Under Fire":
The GOP is fighting a backlash this morning after Politico.com revealed that Kansas Congressman Kevin Yoder went skinny dipping in the Sea of Galilee during a fact-finding trip to Israel. Meantime, Missouri Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin sparked a firestorm by saying in an interview that conception is unlikely from, quote, "a legitimate rape."
Following the Mitchell and O'Donnell, political director Chuck Todd predicted possible damage for Republicans nationwide in the wake of the uproars.
On CBS This Morning, correspondent Nancy Cordes described the "firestorm" over Akin's remarks and how "national Democrats are already seizing on his comments as they try to push the notion that Republicans are out of touch when it comes to women's health."
Here is a full transcript of Mitchell's August 20 report:
7:00AM ET TEASE:
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Hot water. A Republican congressman apologizes for swimming nude in the Sea of Galilee during a fact-finding trip. As another makes waves for this comment about rape and pregnancy:
TODD AKIN: If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
GUTHRIE: Two distractions for the GOP with the convention now just one week away.
7:05AM ET SEGMENT:
LESTER HOLT: Let's turn to politics now and some high-profile distractions for the Republican Party. Two congressmen under fire this morning, one for what he did, the other for what he said. We have two reports, beginning with NBC's chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell. Andrea, good morning.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Good morning, Lester. Well, the Sea of Galilee is a Christian holy site where Jesus is said to have walked on water. But for a large group of House Republicans on a trip to Israel last year, it was the setting for a night that included carousing and one congressman skinny dipping.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Holy Land Controversy; GOP Congressman "Dressed Down" After Skinny Dipping in Israel]
The visit to Israel by 30 members of Congress, some with family members, was sponsored and paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, a nonprofit offshoot of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC. According to the group's mission statement, these trips, quote, "Help educate political leaders and influentials about the importance of U.S.-Israel relationship through firsthand experiences." But almost exactly a year ago, August 18th, 2011, 30 Republican lawmakers had a different kind of firsthand experience. As first reported by Politico, after a night of partying, 20 participants jumped into the Sea of Galilee.
KEVIN YODER: I'm one of the new members in Congress.
MITCHELL: One, Kansas freshman Kevin Yoder, swam nude.
MIKE ALLEN [POLITICO]: At a time when people dislike, distrust Congress anyway, here you have lawmakers, their aides in one of the most sensitive parts of the world swimming in the Sea of Galilee, some in their underwear, one of them nude. Some of the people even took a team picture afterwards.
MITCHELL: NBC News has confirmed that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who was on the trip but not present for the hi jinx, chastised the members the next morning. In a statement to Politico, Congressman Yoder said: "A year ago, my wife, Brooke and I joined colleagues for dinner at the Sea of Galilee in Israel. After dinner I followed some members of Congress in a spontaneous and very brief dive into the sea. And regrettably I jumped into the water without a swimsuit. It is my greatest honor to represent the people of Kansas in Congress and for any embarrassment I have caused for my colleagues and constituents, I apologize."
Now there was nothing illegal about the excursion. And contrary to reports, the FBI did not investigate and would not have had any jurisdiction. But it is, of course, a potential embarrassment to a large group of House Republicans about their behavior on a foreign trip. Savannah.
GUTHRIE: Alright, Andrea Mitchell in Washington, thank you.
Here is a full transcript of O'Donnell's August 20 report:
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Missouri Republican Congressman Todd Akin is quickly backing off a comment he made on Sunday that victims of, quote, "legitimate rape," rarely get pregnant. NBC's Capitol Hill correspondent Kelly O'Donnell has that story for us. Kelly, good morning to you.
KELLY O'DONNELL: Good morning, Savannah. Well, it's one of the most dangerous things for a candidate, saying something that ignites a controversy. And that has happened for Todd Akin, who's been a member of Congress for 12 years. After he made comments about the difficult subject of rape.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: "It's Clear That I Misspoke"; GOP Congressman Under Fire for "Legitimate Rape" Comments]
A big primary victory just two weeks ago for veteran Missouri Congressman Republican Todd Akin, favored to win one of the most watched U.S. Senate races in the country. But suddenly, Akin is swept up by national attention. A stir that began with a local TV interview on Sunday, a strong social conservative and vocal opponent of abortion rights and measures like the morning-after pill. Akin was asked if he could support an abortion exception for women who are raped.
TODD AKIN: It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that doesn't work or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be in the rapist and not attacking the child.
O'DONNELL: On the medical science, experts estimate that of 64,000 reported rapes in 2004, about 3,200 likely resulted in pregnancy. Akin really touched a nerve when he referred to, quote, "legitimate rape." His campaign opponent, the Democratic incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill called Akin "sincere but misguided."
CLAIRE MCCASKILL: I mean frankly, I think, like most women, when we heard this statement, it was, are you kidding? It was a stunner, just jaw-dropping and hard to comprehend.
O'DONNELL: On damage control, Akin responded with a written statement, "In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it's clear that I misspoke," he goes on, "it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year." Akin later tweeted, "To be clear, all of us understand that rape can result in pregnancy and I have great empathy for all victims. I regret misspeaking." The most powerful Republicans in the party, who also oppose abortion rights, quickly distanced themselves from Akin. "Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin's statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortions in instances of rape."
And a couple of other Republican congressmen who are also running for Senate have criticized Todd Akin, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Denny Rehberg of Montana, who said he strongly condemns what he said. The whole campaign committee who's trying to get more Republicans in the Senate said it was right for Akin to say he misspoke. Savannah.
GUTHRIE: Alright, Kelly O'Donnell on the Hill for us. Thank you.