“I think it’s a totally phony effort to distract from what the Republicans know has been the rhetoric of so many of their members, which has in effect, aided and abetted and condoned violent activity,” Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Tuesday.
But the criticism of Waters’ comments over the weekend during a rally at Brooklyn Center, Minn., went beyond partisan political sniping. The Judge in the Chauvin case, Peter A. Cahill, admonished her from the bench Monday. While dismissing a motion by the defense for a mistrial, he singled out Waters’ statement and said it could be an issue during an appeal if Chauvin is found guilty. He went on to criticize public officials for commenting on the case before a verdict.
“I think if they want to give their opinions, they should do so in a respectful and in a manner that is consistent with their oath to the Constitution, to respect a coequal branch of government,” he said. “Their failure to do so, I think, is abhorrent.”
President Biden faced criticism on Tuesday as well for weighing in on the case before the jury has reached a verdict.
“I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict, which is, I think — it’s overwhelming in my view,” Biden said. “I wouldn’t say that unless the jury was sequestered now.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has drafted a privilege resolution that would censure, or formally condemn, Waters’ rhetoric if a majority supports the motion. However, it is expected to fail once Democrats move to “table,” or kill, the resolution.
The vote will occur against the backdrop of a highly anticipated verdict in the Chauvin trial. The killing of Floyd, a black man, in May led to a series of racial justice protests last summer in cities across the country with participants calling for reforms to policing and a broader reckoning over racism throughout the country’s history.
Most of last summer’s protests were peaceful, but Republicans sought to portray the violence and vandalism in some areas, such as Portland, Ore., as indicative of left-wing activists out of control.
Democrats rejected this argument, including when some Republicans compared the unrest at some racial justice protests to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by supporters of President Trump over the false claim that the election was stolen from him through voter fraud.
Minneapolis is bracing for potential unrest following the verdict, buildings have been boarded up and National Guard members are fanning out around the city. Republicans have accused Waters of adding to the tensions with her comments, which she said were about peaceful actions.
Republicans on Tuesday volleyed the hypocrisy charge back at Democrats, saying they have only moved to punish members from the opposing party, such as removing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) from her committee assignments.
“Right now I haven’t heard any Democrats speaking out against what Maxine has said. It’s time for Democrats to speak out when they see it on both sides,” Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said Tuesday at a news conference. “They only want to speak on one side of the aisle, not on both, and that hypocrisy is starting to shine through.”
The action taken against Greene earlier this year followed a series of comments Democrats said were extreme, including some they argued could lead to violence.
Scalise also defended Trump for comments he made at a rally before his supporters attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Trump told the crowd that “we fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” and urged them to head to the Capitol where Congress was in the process of affirming Biden’s win.
Scalise argued on Tuesday that Trump, unlike Waters, “used the word ‘peaceful’” during a different part of his. “I haven’t heard Maxine saying anything about peacefully protesting.”
Waters told theGrio on Monday that she was talking about nonviolent protest when she urged on protesters over the weekend.
“I am nonviolent,” Waters said in the interview with theGrio. “Republicans will jump on any word, any line and try to make it fit their message and their cause for denouncing us and denying us, basically calling us violent … any time they see an opportunity to seize on a word.”
While Democratic aides privately said that Waters should have avoided making such comments during an already sensitive time for protests and policing, the caucus remains largely united in its defense of the California Democrat.
Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Monday that Waters does not need to apologize for her comments. Hoyer and Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) also tried to clarify that Waters did not mean protesters should become violent, rather that she was hoping they channel their expected frustrations and feelings of hopelessness through continuous, but peaceful, pressure campaigns advocating for change.
“To confront is to face, confront your challenges, confront the truth, confront your circumstances,” Hoyer said. “It does not imply violence. Confrontational may well imply an aggressive confrontation, in which case if it does that, then we have so many Republican members who on a regular basis confront aggressively.”
Jeffries urged Republicans to address the inflammatory rhetoric and controversies within their own caucus, singling out Reps. Greene, Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.).
“Kevin McCarthy should focus on his own conference because the Republicans in the House are a mess right now. Perhaps he should sit this one out,” he said. “When you have a situation where Lauren Boebert is a mess, Gaetz is a mess, Marjorie Taylor Greene is a mess. Fix your mess Kevin. Sit this one out.”
Republicans have been critical of past comments from Waters, including when she urged people to confront Trump administration officials when they were spotted in public.
“If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd, and you push back on them!,” she said in 2018.
President Trump responded to the Californian Democrats at the time by referring to her as “an extraordinarily low IQ person.”
Greene also introduced a resolution to expel Waters, echoing Republicans that her comments have threatened the livelihood of the National Guard already in Minnesota in case of unrest following the verdict.
“What’s more confrontational than the riots the American people have endured over the past year? It’s time to expel Maxine Waters,” Greene said in a video posted on Twitter.
Hoyer said he found it “incredible” that Greene was among those pushing to discipline Waters given Greene’s history, including a 2019 post on Twitter she “liked” that said “a bullet to the head” would be a quick way to remove Pelosi.
Pressed by reporters on why there was no censure motion driven by Republicans against Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) for telling “patriots” on Jan. 6 to start “taking down names and kicking ass” ahead of their march on the Capitol, Scalise said he had “been very clear in speaking out against any rhetoric that incites violence” but did not say if action would be taken.
While Democrats currently do not plan to introduce a censure resolution against Republicans involved in the attack on the Capitol in response to McCarthy’s motion, Hoyer said that “action is still possible on that.”