WASHINGTON – House Republicans were defeated in their effort to force a vote that would censure Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., for calling on protesters to “get more active” and “get more confrontational” if a jury were to vote to acquit former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd.
The jury on Tuesday convicted him of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Before news of the verdict, House Democratic leaders quickly came to Waters’ defense and denounced the resolution as a cynical political ploy to draw attention away from inflammatory and extremist remarks recently made by Republicans, including former president Donald Trump, and said Waters was calling for peaceful protests, not violence.
“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 Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Tuesday.
Democrats held firm in their support for Waters, with all party members voting to “table,” practically defeating, the censure resolution introduced by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. The resolution failed, 216 to 210.
“I’m not celebrating,” Waters said after the vote. “I’m relieved.”
The criticism of Waters’s comments over the weekend during a rally at Brooklyn Center, Minn., went beyond partisan political sniping. The judge in the Chauvin case, Peter Cahill, admonished her from the bench Monday. While dismissing a motion by the defense for a mistrial, he mentioned Waters’s statement and said it could be an issue during an appeal if Chauvin were found guilty, which he was Tuesday. Cahill criticized 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 Joe Biden faced criticism Tuesday for weighing in on the case before the jury had 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.”
The vote occurred before the verdict, moments after the House voted against the resolution along party lines. The murder of Floyd, a Black man, in May led to racial justice demonstrations 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 Trump over the false claim that the election was stolen from him through voter fraud.
Minneapolis was bracing for unrest before the verdict; buildings had been boarded up, and National Guard members fanned out in and around the city. Republicans have accused Waters of adding to the tensions with her comments, which she said were about peace and a call to action on civil rights.
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 this year over her past embrace of extremist beliefs.
“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.”
Shortly thereafter, a mob descended on the Capitol and broke into the building, battling police and leading lawmakers to seek shelter in secure locations.
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 it 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 speech. “I haven’t heard Maxine saying anything about peacefully protesting.”
Waters told news site The Grio 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. “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 all Democrats voted to support Waters, aides privately said her comments were unhelpful given that they fueled Republican attacks that Democrats are the party of “defund the police” and civil disorder, which moderates say contributed to Democrats losing seats during November elections. The aides spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitive nature of the censure debate.
“I love my colleagues and they love me. I don’t want to do anything to hurt them or hurt their chances for reelection,” Waters said after the vote on the resolution. “I will make sure that they are comfortable with my kind of advocacy so that we can all be sure that we can do the right thing. I want to be clear about that.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Monday that Waters does not need to apologize for her comments. Hoyer and Democratic 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, mentioning Reps. Greene, Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and reminding that some Republicans were ready to launch an America First Caucus, which describes the United States as a place with “uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions,” according to a document tied to the group.
“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,” Jeffries 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.
Trump responded to Waters 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 related to 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. Greene tried to interrupt Hoyer during his remarks on the floor after he stressed that it was “irresponsible” for Republicans to take Waters’s remarks “out of context to just hold a gotcha partisan vote” when they have failed to do the same for Greene’s past statements.
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 a–” before their march on the Capitol, Scalise said he had “been very clear in speaking out against any rhetoric that incites violence,” but he did not say whether action would be taken.
While Democrats do not plan to introduce, in response to McCarthy’s motion, a censure resolution against Republicans who appeared to be sympathetic to the Capitol rioters, Hoyer warned that holding the vote against Waters would encourage Democrats to hold votes condemning Republicans.
“I would suggest to my friend, the minority leader, that if confrontation is subject to sanction, then we’re going to have a lot of people on your side of the aisle whom we believe are confrontational every day,” he said on the House floor. “We haven’t had all the resolutions that have been introduced on my side of the aisle. This makes it harder, however, not to proceed on numerous resolutions on my side of the aisle.