H E L E N A ( A P )
Representatives of the gay community demanded an apology Friday from U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg of Montana over a prank involving an Idaho congressman. Last month, Rehberg reportedly placed a package on the a i r p l ane s e a t o f f e l l ow Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson during a Middle East congressional delegation trip. The package included a stuffed sheep with gloves attached to it, books on cross-dressing and sign language, a Village People CD and a T-shirt apparently referencing the Sen. Larry Craig scandal, according to The Hill, a Washington, D.C., newspaper. Rehberg ' s spokesman Bridger Pierce said Friday that "no offense was intended." "This was a practical joke between two friends from neighboring western states who often play pranks on one another," Pierce said in a statement. "The real news from Congress today is the failure of the Democrats t o ex t e n d t h e Fo r e i g n Intelligence Surveillance Act, and Congressman Rehberg's efforts to reauthorize the farm bill and fix the president's budget to make sure we adequately fund rural priories like Amtrak and wildfire suppression." The prank drew criticism from gay rights groups. "This is an embarrassment to Montana," said Jamee Greer of the Western Montana Gay and Lesbian Community Center. "Rep. Rehberg owes the gay community and all of Montana an apology." The Montana Human Rights Network and the Community Center of Mi s soula have requested a meeting with Rehberg to discuss the prank and his voting record. "He plays silly pranks while he votes against hate crimes protections," said state Sen. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena, who serves as director of the Montana Human Ri ght s Network. Rehberg voted against a House resolution in May 2007 that would have amended the federal definition of a hate crime to include gender identity and sexual orientation. Pierce said Friday that Rehberg voted against the resolution because "all violent crimes are deplorable, and this bill would have set a special standard of punishment for crimes involving a particular group." Cra i g , a t h re e - t e r m Republican from Idaho, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in August after he was accused of using a series of foot taps and hand signals to solicit sex in a bathroom at the Minneapolis- St. Paul International Airport in June. He tried unsuccessfully to withdraw his guilty plea and has denied he was soliciting sex.