Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., stepped into a congressional hearing on Wednesday, armed with questions and ready to praise a witness for a prompt response to a letter Coats and other members of the Indiana congressional delegation sent on March 24.
The problem? It was the wrong hearing, and the wrong witness.
"Number one, I want to commend you because, unprecedented in my career, we received a letter back on March 26th, of the same year," Coats began. "So I'm very impressed with that."
After that brief commendation, Coats asked the witness a question. Before he could answer, though, a staffer not-so-stealthily slipped the senator a note, and Coats promptly realized his mistake.
"I just got a note saying I'm at the wrong hearing," he said. "I've got the right room number but the wrong hearing."
"That would explain why I didn't know anything about the letter," replied the witness, Treasury undersecretary David Cohen.
"Well, this is the first time this has ever happened to me," moaned Coats, who has served 13 non-consecutive years in the Senate, "but I hope it's not a precursor of what..."
"You're always welcome in our committee," interjected Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who was chairing the panel.
"Well, thank you. I saw some familiar faces and I thought this is where I should be," Coats said. "I'll go try to find out where I'm supposed to be. Thank you."
He departed and made his way to the proper hearing. The witness there, Defense Department official Mike McCord, seemed to have a better idea of what in the world Coats was talking about.
For some, Coats' "oops" moment recalled a famed bit of Capitol Hill lore: the time longtime Sen. Larry Pressler, R-S.D., tried to leave a committee hearing through the wrong door. Rather than stepping into the hallway outside, Pressler found himself in a broom closet.
Instead of promptly rectifying his mistake, though, Pressler remained in the closet for 15 minutes, presumably hoping the prying eyes outside would disperse. When that didn't happen, Pressler emerged with a nonchalant wave before walking out of the hearing room, or so the story goes.