Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) laughed off the recent controversy surrounding his suggestion that restaurants shouldn't be required to force employees to wash their hands.

"Here, let me get my [hand sanitizer] gel out," Tillis said with a laugh after shaking this reporter's hand when asked about the brouhaha.


The new senator became a late-night comedy punch line earlier this week for arguing that the government should not require food workers to wash their hands after using the bathroom, saying "the market will take care of that" by causing businesses that didn't to fold.

"I don't have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says, 'We don't require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom,' " Tillis said to audience laughter at a Bipartisan Policy Center event on overregulation that aired on C-SPAN.

The comments made the rounds in the Beltway on Tuesday, and Tillis hit the big time Wednesday evening when Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" did a full segment on his comments.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the title of Mr. Ayn Rand 2015 goes to Thom Tillis. I'd high-five him but I don't want to die like a character in the game 'Oregon Trail,'" Jon Stewart joked in the segment before calling him "Sen. Dunghands Von Fecalfingers."

The senator told The Hill that people had missed the joke.

"I think anybody who was there or actually watched the video and saw the context that I was talking about knows what kind of hogwash it is. It sounds like they got hold of a blogger to get the story spun up," he said. "Of course it needs to be regulated. If you noticed it was one of the instances at the very tail end, it was clearly meant as a joke. Even [the moderator] at the end said 'Well now I'm not sure I should shake your hand.' It was just fun."

Tillis refused to back down from his point about overregulation, however.

"What we were trying to do is point to the serious subject of overregulation which was the whole context of the discussion," he said. "That's why I used it as an example, because it was an extreme example where the market would demand that kind of behavior."