WASHINGTON — The House, in a stunning rebuke of a sitting president, voted Tuesday to “strongly condemn” President Donald Trump’s suggestion that four freshman Democratic women of color “go home” — a Twitter broadside described in a Democratic resolution as “racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans.”
The extraordinary vote came after an afternoon of vitriolic debate that erupted into a floor fight over remarks by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which were “taken down” — ruled out of order by her No. 2 Democrat, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer.
Here are six takeaways:
Republicans Held Together, for the Most Part
Only four Republicans — Reps. Will Hurd of Texas, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan and Susan W. Brooks of Indiana — broke with their party to vote against Trump. They were joined by Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, a Trump critic who recently abandoned the Republican Party to become an independent. Each had his or her reasons.
Hurd, a former CIA agent and the only black Republican in the House, barely hung onto his seat. Fitzpatrick squeaked past his Democratic opponent last year and often votes with Democrats. (He has also signed a congressional pledge to civility.) Upton, a centrist and House veteran who also advocates civility, is retiring, and thus not beholden to Trump.
“If we’re going to bring civility back to the center of our politics, we must speak out against inflammatory rhetoric from anyone in any party anytime it happens,” Upton wrote Tuesday on Twitter.
Brooks is retiring, too. She is one of the few Republicans to criticize Trump’s “go home” remarks, which she said were “inappropriate and do not reflect American values.”
Amash, though, is in a class by himself. He was the only Republican to say Trump’s conduct reached the threshold of impeachment — until, that is, he left the party. Now he is the lone independent in the House.
History in the Making
Official rebukes of the president by Congress are exceedingly rare — and difficult to track because the language of House and Senate resolutions varies.
Beyond the two presidents who were impeached — Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, neither of whom was removed from office — there have been only four congressional votes to approve resolutions aimed at censuring or condemning a president, according to a 2018 report by the Congressional Research Service. The most recent involved President William Howard Taft, who was accused in 1912 of trying to influence a disputed Senate election. But the resolution that stated he “ought to be severely condemned” was eventually watered down, and that phrase was struck from the final version. Three years earlier, in 1909, the House voted to reprimand President Theodore Roosevelt, who had aroused lawmakers’ ire with remarks in his annual message to Congress.
The decision to take down Pelosi’s words was historic, as well. However, a vote to strike her comments from the record failed along party lines. The last speaker who had his words taken down is believed to be Tip O’Neill, the legendary Democrat from Massachusetts. (A 1990 analysis of such episodes by the Congressional Research Service does not appear to have been updated.) That happened in 1984, when Rep. Newt Gingrich, the firebrand Georgia Republican (and future speaker), baited O’Neill into attacking him.
The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend
Before the fracas over Trump’s tweets, the four Democratic congresswomen — Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts — were on the outs with Pelosi. (It should be noted that three of the four, who are known collectively as the Squad, were born in this country.)
After they crossed Pelosi by voting against a border aid package, she put the Squad in its place, telling the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd that despite “their public whatever and their Twitter world,” they “didn’t have any following” where it mattered: on the House floor. “They’re four people,” Pelosi said, “and that’s how many votes they got.”
That created a predictable furor, prompting a spate of “Democrats in disarray” coverage about liberals who defended the women, and centrists defending Pelosi. But Trump’s Twitter attacks have united Democrats against a common enemy: the president.
No, This Will Not Quell the Liberals’ Thirst For Impeachment
Tuesday’s debate gave liberal Democrats, who are itching to move ahead with impeachment proceedings against Trump, an opportunity to blow off some steam. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, who oversees the House Progressive Caucus and was born in India, was particularly animated. “Yes, I am a proud naturalized citizen born in India, a proud patriot,” she thundered on the House floor. “It’s not the first time I’ve heard, ‘go back to your country,’ but it’s the first time I heard it from the White House!”
But the condemnation resolution is unlikely to serve as a substitute for impeachment. As soon as the vote was over, the Democrats’ leading advocate of impeachment — Rep. Al Green of Texas — took to the House floor to call, once again, for Trump to be impeached.
But It May Not Be Great for Moderates, Either
One reason Pelosi does not want to push ahead with impeachment proceedings is that doing so could jeopardize the so-called majority makers — centrist Democrats who are running for reelection in districts carried by Trump in 2016. While Democrats voted unanimously in favor of the condemnation resolution, it will be worth watching how the vote goes over in these Democrats’ home districts.
Even before Tuesday’s vote, the House Republicans’ campaign arm was preparing news releases calling those centrist Democrats “deranged,” which they later blasted into reporter’s email inboxes.
And What Will This Resolution Accomplish?
For all of the hellfire and brimstone surrounding it, the resolution itself is symbolic. Then again, in politics, symbolism matters. When the history of the 116th Congress is written, Democrats will be recorded as having condemned a United States president for the first time in more than 100 years.