PAT ROBERTS TALKS UP ‘PRETTY HOT DEMOCRATS’…. I have no idea what he could have been thinking.

At a Finance Committee hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) was questioning a panel of experts on the tax code’s fairness. To kick off his questions, Mr. Roberts jokingly said he was conferring an “honorary doctorate of economics” on each of the four witnesses.

One of the witnesses, Aviva Aron-Dine, actually is a Ph.D. candidate in economics at MIT. Making nice with the senator, she said she appreciated the conferral of a degree, because she wouldn’t mind getting hers a couple of years early.

“I always heard a Ph.D. was a pretty hot Democrat,” Mr. Roberts replied.

“Pretty … sorry?” Ms. Aron-Dine responded.

“Somebody asked me what a pretty hot Republican was, and they said, ‘Nothing,’” Mr. Roberts continued. “So, you know, it’s an equal deal.” Then he went on with his questioning.

Pat Roberts isn’t exactly known for being the Senate’s classiest and most dignified member, but what possessed him to say these things out loud?

The senator’s spokesperson later said, “He means hot as in partisan or ‘fired up.’”

Really? That’s the defense?

Since when is a Senate Finance Committee hearing an appropriate venue for locker-room jocularity and making young professional women feel uncomfortable?

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.