Performing his duties, Vice President Joe Biden invited Irish Prime Minister Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his wife Fionnuala to his home for a lovely breakfast to discuss Biden’s upcoming trip to Ireland. In a bizarre attempt to be affable – and perhaps suffering a St. Patrick’s Day hangover – Biden greeted his guests with the line, “if you’re wearing orange, you’re not welcome here.”
Biden added that he was only joking.
"Orange," of course, being a term used to define Protestants, and a bit of a hot button phrase given the nature of the Irish conflict.
But Democratic Unionist Party MP William McCrea, who is also a Free Presbyterian minister, was not amused.
"When Northern Ireland is making such an effort to make St. Patrick’s day an inclusive celebration, Joe Biden’s comments were disgraceful and careless," McCrea said in a statement, echoing a complaint Vice President Biden must be getting used to hearing by now.
"Whether they were intended as a joke or not," McCrea added, "the comments are a slur on those who would be known as 'orange' i.e. Protestants. This term is much wider than anyone who is a member of the Orange Order. It has traditionally been used to define people from the Protestant faith."
A very upset McCrea called for Biden to apologize. He also said that the Obama administration should take action to prove that Protestants are welcome in the White House, although a cursory study of the last 44 presidents’ religious affiliations would suggest that only Protestants are welcome in the White House.
"Undoubtedly if he had made such a remark about any other faith group there would be calls for his resignation," said McCrea, who clearly hasn’t followed American politics very closely. Comments expressing some degree of religious intolerance are nearly bi-weekly occurrences, with anti-Protestant remarks, really, being the only exception.
In response to McCrea’s call for an apology, Biden seems to be standing his ground. An official for the vice president’s office told Reuters that Biden had made it clear he was joking.
And this is a man who knows jokes. Biden’s got jokes about the weather in Washington. Biden’s got jokes about joining the “good wives club.” Biden’s even got jokes about the own funny faces he makes during swearing-in ceremonies.
Last October, the vice president spoke before the Harvard Institute of Politics, and was asked how he feels to be only 2nd in command, behind President Obama.
"Isn’t it a b----h," he said to laughs from the crowd. "I’m joking," he added. "I’m joking, I’m joking. Best decision I ever made. I’m joking. That was a joke. That was a joke."
Taoiseach Kenny also met with President Obama on Tuesday to discuss growing tensions between Kenny’s government and Northern Ireland.