By Associated Press - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Rep. Lee Terry has issued an apology for his attempt at a joke to explain his tardiness to a congressional committee hearing held to question General Motors officials about faulty car ignition switches responsible for at least 13 deaths.

In the televised hearing Tuesday, the Nebraska Republican apologized for being late, explaining that his flight to Washington was canceled for mechanical reasons.

“Probably an ignition switch,” he added.

The comment drew widespread criticism. Some family members of those killed in defective GM cars were present at the hearing.

Terry apologized later Tuesday, issuing a statement from his office.

“No excuses, I said something I shouldn’t have,” the statement read. “I had no intention of being insensitive, but made an off-handed comment that detracted away from the very important substance of today’s hearing on the GM recall.”

Since February, GM has recalled 2.6 million cars - mostly Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions - over the faulty switch, which can cause the engine to cut off in traffic, disabling the power steering, power brakes and air bags and making it difficult to control the vehicle. The automaker said new switches should be available starting April 7.

Terry said his remark shows that everyone is capable of making a mistake.

“I think everyone can understand what it’s like to say something and not be able to take it back,” he said.

It’s not the first time Terry has publicly apologized for a contentious remark.

When asked last year whether he’d continue to collect his paycheck during a government shutdown, he quipped, “Dang straight,” adding that he had a nice house and a child in college. He later apologized and said he wouldn’t take a paycheck until furloughed federal workers were paid.

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