GOP congressman forced to apologize for upsetting elementary students with talk of suicide bombers

Rep. Matt Salmon says he was just trying to explain the Iranian nuclear deal to the schoolchildren

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published September 1, 2015 6:24PM (EDT)

Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz.            (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

A class of second and third graders in Arizona was recently treated to a visit from their local congressman for a civics lesson on the presidential veto they won't soon forget, complete with a detailed explanation of the Iranian nuclear negotiations and a discussion of school-aged ISIS suicide bombers.

Phoenix-area TV station KPHO first got wind of Arizona Congressman Matt Salmon's interesting visit with second and third graders at San Tan Charter School in Gilbert last week after parents complained that his description of the veto process had frightened their young children.

"'Do you know what a nuclear weapon is? Do you know that there are schools that train children your age to be suicide bombers?'" Salmon asked the school kids while attempting to explain the Iranian nuclear deal, according to parent Scott Campbell who said that Salmon's appearance had deeply disturbed his young daughter.

"After school my daughter was very concerned and said to me she actually didn't even know what suicide was and was very afraid," Campbell told KPHO. "Just from my observation, it was a terrible lack of judgement in that particular case ... I was shocked initially. When I was hearing it, I was shocked and saddened."

The school's principal, Kristofer Sippel, explained exactly how Salmon came to discuss school-aged terrorists with young second and third graders in an email to CNN:

Yesterday Congressman Matt Salmon visited your kiddos’ classroom where they discussed the process they had learned about how a bill becomes a law. During this conversation, the Congressman shared a bill that will be going through the process with regards to nuclear warfare down to the terrorist trained and the age of the kiddos that are trained. This conversation lasted about three minutes to which I interjected that we had time for a few questions in hops to divert the conversation. At this point, the questions changed to a different topic; however, after a few questions the topic again turned to ISIS and terrorists; at that point, Ms. Kisler did a great job and interrupted the Q & A to thank the Congressman for coming to the classroom.

Some of your kiddos may have come home yesterday to share their experience with you; this may have left you uneasy, if your family was troubled with this discussion, I encourage you to please reach out to the Congressman’s office to discuss this with him and/or his staff.

At least three families met with Salmon aides on Monday and according to the Washington Post, Salmon also reached out more directly to the concerned parent who first demanded he answer for his "inappropriate" comments, Scott Campbell.

“After the meeting, Rep. Salmon called me personally to apologize to my family,” Campbell said, praising the congressman for the move. “In today’s political climate that was a genuine and welcome gesture. I might not agree with his opinions on policy and what he did in this specific incident was wrong, but it did restore some of my faith in our democracy. People must speak truth to power when they are in the wrong and I have regained a lot of respect for him today.”

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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