TOPEKA, Kan. - A Republican congressman representing Kansas has apologized for embarrassing his supporters by swimming naked at the holy site of the Sea of Galilee while on a fact-finding mission to Israel.
Freshman U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, 36, has not been charged in the Aug. 18, 2011, incident in which he and about 20 other lawmakers and staff members jumped into the water. Politico reported Sunday that he was the only one among them who wore no clothes.
"It's an embarrassing situation, and I regret it," Yoder said during an interview on public radio station KCUR-FM in Kansas City, Mo. "I know that many constituents out there are sort of scratching their heads, saying, 'What is this guy up to? What was he doing? What was he thinking?'"
Yoder had been scheduled to participate Monday in a discussion on energy policy at an oil and natural gas industry convention in Wichita, but he did not attend. However, he did the radio interview at the station's studio, accompanied by his wife, Brooke.
Some Christians consider the Sea of Galilee a holy site because they believe Jesus walked on water there. Swimming in the lake is permitted but public nudity is not allowed, according to Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
"If someone walks around the beach naked, that's an offense," Rosenfeld said in Jerusalem. He said no official complaint had been made against Yoder, but it was possible he could still be charged even a year later.
"If that kind of incident takes place and someone makes an official compliant, we'll investigate," Rosenfeld said Monday.
Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon called Yoder's behavior "inexcusable" and said if the incident had occurred in Kansas, he would be forced to resign. She later issued a statement calling for him to step down.
"I'm astonished these people think they can go on these junkets like this and no one will know what they do," Wagnon said.
The Aug. 13-21 trip was sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, a charity whose mission is to provide grants for educational programs and conferences, and to educate politicians and influential people about the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
"At the time, it seemed very spontaneous," Yoder said. "Somewhat afterwards, maybe the next day, I started thinking that maybe that wasn't the smartest decision."
Yoder said it was dark and he was in the water for only about 10 seconds. He said his wife was with him but did not go into the water. He said members of the party jumped in individually, not as a group, and not everyone did.
"I jumped in, was in for 10 seconds, jumped back out," Yoder said during his radio interview. "Just in and out — just to have the experience, really."
Yoder acknowledged that he and his wife had wine with dinner before the incident but added, "Alcohol really played no role in the decision to go in. It was really a spontaneous moment with members at the Sea of Galilee, which is obviously a special place."
Yoder said in his radio interview that Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the senior Republican on the trip, was "very frustrated and upset" over the swimming and scolded delegates for their behavior.
Yoder's sole opponent in the upcoming general election is Libertarian Joel Balam, of Overland Park. Yoder served in the Kansas House from 2003 through 2010 and was chairman of its Appropriations Committee. He also is a former University of Kansas student body president.
In February 2009, Yoder, then the Appropriations Committee chairman, was cited by the Kansas Highway Patrol for speeding and refusing to take a breath-alcohol test following an early-morning traffic stop on a state highway in the Lawrence area. He later pleaded guilty to refusing to take the test and paid a $90 fine.
The traffic stop briefly caused ruffles during his successful 2010 run for Congress, but Yoder's campaign said he'd refused to take the breath test because he'd passed another field sobriety test and wasn't driving under the influence.
Wagnon promised that Democrats would field a strong candidate against Yoder in 2014 and would remind voters of the incident.
"I'm just sorry I don't have anyone running against him, and it isn't for lack of trying," Wagnon said.