WASHINGTON – Rep. Tim Ryan's campaign blamed "absentmindedness" for why he didn't put his hand on his heart for the national anthem during the opening of the Democratic debate on Tuesday.
"Congressman Ryan wasn’t protesting and didn’t mean to make any statement last night in Detroit," read an email from the Ohio lawmaker's campaign on Wednesday.
The statement called it a "moment of absentmindedness while on a debate stage that won’t happen again" and said Ryan was "in fact, singing along with the choir to honor our country."
"Congressman Ryan loves our country and will continue to honor the flag during the anthem in future events, as he has in countless events in the past," the campaign said.
Ryan's failure to cover his heart was noted by several commentators on social media.
Ari Fleisher, who served as White House press secretary during the George W. Bush administration, said he was trying to appeal to "the Kaepernick wing of the Democratic Party," referring to former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled during the anthem at to protest police brutality.
Rep. Tim Ryan didn’t put his hand over his heart during the national anthem. I guess he’s appealing to the Kaepernick wing of the Democratic Party.
— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) July 31, 2019
Trump campaign official Mercedes Schlapp took Ryan's failure to cover his heart as a sign he "should not run for President."
— Mercedes Schlapp (@mercedesschlapp) July 31, 2019
"Put your hand over your heart for the star spangled banner Time Ryann!!!" tweeted Meghan McCain.
Put your hand over your heart for the star spangled banner Tim Ryan!!! #DemocraticDebate
— Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) July 31, 2019
Ryan laughed when asked about the criticism after the debate.
"I love this country as much as everybody else," he said, adding that he puts his hand on his heart for the Pledge of Allegiance.
"No, not really," Rep. Tim Ryan says when asked if he has anything to say about causing a stir for being the only candidate for not putting his hand on his heart during the national anthem at #DemDebate.
"I love this country as much as everybody else" https://t.co/FPoMn84lw9 pic.twitter.com/jbcHLX24hT
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) July 31, 2019
Here were some other reactions:
Weird. I agree with Mercedes freaking Schlapp that the candidate who doesn't put his hand over his heart during the national anthem at the debate should never become president: pic.twitter.com/BWuAhdSikS
— Dean Gloster (@deangloster) July 31, 2019
I remember when Melania had to nudge Trump to put his hand on his heart. pic.twitter.com/AQRzRFeApT
— 🌈Trinity the Cat - OTRB🌈 (@Trinitythecat) July 31, 2019
Happening now: Will any of the Dems take a knee for the national anthem?
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) July 31, 2019
Democratic presidential debate contender, @RepTimRyan (D-OH), only @CNN debate participant in Detroit to appear onstage during presentation of colors, playing of national anthem, w/hands politely folded at waist, & not positioning his right hand over his heart.
Why, pray tell?
— James A. Gagliano (@JamesAGagliano) July 31, 2019
Tim Ryan? No hand over his heart for the anthem? WTF? pic.twitter.com/bnM9LDOfkd
— Paul Rieckhoff (@PaulRieckhoff) July 31, 2019
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 31, 2019
— Hal Rudnick (@halrudnick) July 31, 2019
Tim Ryan is the only candidate who does not have his hand over his heart on stage during the National Anthem
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) July 31, 2019
Awkward moment as Tim Ryan is the only candidate on stage who doesn't have his hand over his heart
— Kathryn Watson (@kathrynw5) July 31, 2019
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Democratic debate: Tim Ryan says he wasn't protesting national anthem