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A misunderstanding and a case of mistaken identity

Tea Party freshman Rep. Allen West (R-FL) stirred up Democrats with his angry “you are not a lady” email to DNC Chair and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). But another Democrat has taken heat as a result of West’s words -- and under a false assumption. 

On the House floor Tuesday in a speech that prompted the tangle with Wasserman Schultz,  West called out Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), claiming Welch had mistaken him for Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC). West and Scott are the only African American Republicans in the House, and they're both freshman.  

Rep. Welch’s office says West got it all wrong, and West concedes that too. His office calls it a misunderstanding. 

Here’s what happened: Welch was wrapping up his own speech, looked in West’s direction, and said: “I see the gentleman from South Carolina.”  West was the next speaker and began by chiding Welch:

"I do need to correct my colleague from Vermont, I'm not from South Carolina, I'm from Florida but that's OK. I'm the guy with hair." Scott has a shaved head.

Aides say the comment left the false impression that Welch was insensitive and mistaken. The Vermont Democrat’s office even received calls accusing him of being racist. His office says Welch was actually referring to South Carolina GOP Rep. Mick Mulvaney, who was seated behind West.

In fact, Welch's office says the context backs that up. “Rep. Welch was alluding to an amendment offered by Rep. Mulvaney to identify wasteful spending in the Pentagon budget as an example of how Democrats and Republicans can work together,” Welch spokesman Scott Coriell tells NBC News.

In addition, aides say Welch and West had appeared together on FOX, making it implausible that Welch would mistake his colleague. But Welch did not correct West publicly, and left the racially tinged charge unanswered. Welch later went directly to West and explained.

West’s office says “there are no hard feelings,” and that the two congressmen were “joking about the misunderstanding,” according to West spokeswoman Angela Sachitano.  

But the Florida congressman’s assumption put Welch in a tough spot. His office said, "The misunderstanding was unfortunate.”