Democratic presidential contender Tim Ryan brushed off criticism he received Tuesday after being the only candidate onstage who did not place a hand over his heart during the national anthem, saying he loves the U.S. "as much as anybody else."
Ryan, D-Ohio, let out a laugh when he was told he faced backlash from Ari Fleischer, Meghan McCain and others on Twitter following the first night in the second round of Democratic debates Tuesday in Detroit as the only one onstage not to put his hand over his heart as the "Star Spangled Banner" was sung.
“I love this country as much as everybody else,” Ryan told reporters after the debate ended. Ryan clasped his hands in front of him beneath his waist instead of putting a hand over his heart as Pastor Marvin L. Winans’ Perfecting Church Choir sang the anthem.
“The national anthem plays at football games, I put my hand on my heart for the Pledge of Allegiance,” he continued in his own defense. “I don’t know, the choir was singing and it was great,” he said, seemingly brushing off the incident.
His campaign later put out a statement saying: “Congressman Ryan wasn’t protesting and didn’t mean to make any statement last night in Detroit, it was a moment of absentmindedness while on a debate stage that won’t happen again. He was, in fact, singing along with the choir to honor our country. Congressman Ryan loves our country and will continue to honor the flag during the anthem in future events, as he has in countless events in the past.”
Some Twitter users, however, speculated Ryan purposely elected not to put his hand over his heart as a political statement.
"Rep. Tim Ryan didn’t put his hand over his heart during the national anthem," wrote former George W. Bush press secretary and Fox News contributor Ari Fleischer. "I guess he’s appealing to the Kaepernick wing of the Democratic Party."
In the past, former NFL player Colin Kaepernick and other athletes have either knelt during the national anthem or failed to put their hands over their hearts as a form of protest against police brutality against minorities.
Added Meghan McCain: "Put your hand over your heart for the star spangled banner Tim Ryan!!!"
In 2007, Barack Obama, who was a U.S. senator from Illinois at the time, faced backlash for failing to put his hand over his heart during the singing of the national anthem in Iowa before a debate with Democratic primary rivals Bill Richardson and Hillary Clinton, the Washington Examiner reported.
During Tuesday’s debate, Ryan stood alongside South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, author Marianne Williamson, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
Williamson initially did not place her hand over her heart but did so halfway through the song, appearing to take a cue from other candidates.
Fox News' Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.
Fox News' Gregg Re contributed to this report.