Missouri congressman defends 'A-woman' end to prayer

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FILE - In this July 28, 2016 file photo, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., speaks during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Rep. Cleaver says he was surprised by the backlash against how he ended his prayer that opened the new session of the U.S. House on Sunday. Cleaver concluded the prayer with the words, "Amen and A-woman," which he said was a pun meant to honor the record number of women serving in Congress this session. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite File)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver said he was caught off guard by the negative response after he ended his opening prayer on the first day of the new Congress by saying, “Amen and A-woman.”

Cleaver, a United Methodist minister and former mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, is in his ninth term in Congress. He told the Kansas City Star his “A-woman” reference on Sunday was intended to recognize the record number of women serving in the new Congress.

But it spurred a torrent of criticism from conservatives who accused Cleaver of misunderstanding the meaning of “amen,” a Hebrew word that means “so be it.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler of Pennsylvania incorrectly stated on Twitter that “Amen” has Latin origins, but added, “It’s not a gendered word. Unfortunately, facts are irrelevant to progressives. Unbelievable.”

Cleaver said it was a pun intended as a tribute to his female colleagues and to Rear Adm. Margaret Grun Kibben, the new House chaplain and first woman to hold the role.

There are 144 women serving in the House and Senate. The previous high was 129.

Cleaver said he was “deeply disappointed that my prayer has been misinterpreted and misconstrued by some to fit a narrative that stokes resentment and greater division among portions of our population.”