The previous night, after the House’s tense debate to approve two articles of impeachment against Trump, the president lashed out at Dingell for her vote against him, especially after he gave military support for John Dingell’s memorial services — including a flight filled with a bipartisan delegation to Michigan for a funeral they never could attend because of bad weather.
The president and the congresswoman discussed his support for the services in a phone call that Trump recounted for the rally Wednesday night.
“ ‘John would be so thrilled. He’s looking down,’ ” Dingell told him, according to Trump, who then said to the crowd: “Maybe he’s looking up, I don’t know.”
Dingell appeared Thursday morning on CNN, and host Alisyn Camerota queued a clip of Trump’s incendiary remarks with Dingell on a split screen. The congresswoman’s face remained stoic as Trump mimicked her in a phone call he made to Dingell after her husband died.
But her eyes closed tightly for a moment when Trump arrived at the line she knew was coming.
“John Dingell loved this country,” she told Camerota. “He believed in bringing everybody together. He believed in our democracy. And my family’s still hurting.”
“We should take a lesson from this and all respect each other, period. ... Some things should be off limits,” @RepDebDingell says after President Trump implied that her late husband, Rep. John Dingell, is “looking up” from hell. https://t.co/jUmIBg9w9t pic.twitter.com/4lgaU0xdw1— New Day (@NewDay) December 19, 2019
Despite an uproar from Democrats and some Republicans, Trump has not apologized. Speaking to media Thursday afternoon, Trump appeared to ignore questions posed by several reporters, one of whom asked, “Mr. President, will you apologize to Congresswoman Dingell?”
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), a close family friend who served as a eulogist at Dingell’s February funeral Mass in Georgetown, called on Trump to apologize.
“I’ve always looked up to John Dingell,” Upton tweeted. “. . . There was no need to ‘dis’ him in a crass political way. Most unfortunate and an apology is due.”
Other Republicans came to Dingell’s defense as the controversy grew. “Merry Christmas Debbie, you deserve to be able to heal in peace. Those comments were totally unnecessary,” tweeted Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Texas conservative and frequent Trump defender.
McCarthy — who, at Dingell’s funeral, sat in the front pew with Pelosi and other congressional leaders — declined to address Trump’s comments Thursday at a news conference, describing the Dingells as “very good individuals.”
Debbie Dingell thanked her GOP colleagues for their private expressions to her, hoping that it would make people rethink over the holiday season.
On Wednesday, Gohmert got into a shouting match with Democrats during the impeachment debate. A day later, he came to their side of the aisle to see Dingell. “Louie came to the Democratic side. Louie Gohmert! And kissed me and kept apologizing for the president,” she said, explaining that he did not have to apologize. “Louie, it’s not you!”
One Republican approached her and motioned toward the heavens, Rep. Dingell said. “John Dingell’s up there still.”
She rebuffed suggestions from Democrats to go after Trump in a political level. “I’m not going to go to his level. Michelle Obama: When they go low, you go high,” she said, recalling the former first lady’s famous remark. “But it did hurt, and I think people really realized that it did hurt. And did he maybe — is this the time that people realize what we’re doing to each other? I don’t know; I don’t want to be naive.”
John Dingell was a great American who made a profound impact on our nation.— Steny Hoyer (@LeaderHoyer) December 19, 2019
Debbie, the love & devotion you shared is an example to us all. While this President seeks to divide and hurt, let us lift up that love & remember the wonderful legacy of such a good & decent man.
Dingell learned of Trump’s attacks while attending a bipartisan dinner of members of the Problem Solvers Caucus. Upton told her that the president had mentioned her, and then a reporter called to explain the details of the comments, so she had to leave the dinner.
“I told them I loved them, but I was going to go home and deal with it,” Dingell said.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment late Wednesday, but when asked by ABC about Trump’s comments, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham defended the president as a “counterpuncher” who was “under attack.”
“I am very, very sorry for her loss,” Grisham said on “Good Morning America.” “And I would thank her and I would thank her late husband for all of the service to our country.”
Grisham’s defense was criticized by Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who tweeted that Trump’s “ ‘counter punches’ against fallen American heroes and their grieving families are vile, cruel, and disgusting.”
.@JohnDingell was everything that Trump is not—a true public servant and statesman in a way this president knows he can never be.— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) December 20, 2019
I’m so proud of what @DebDingell has done to carry on John's work in Michigan and Bill and I are standing with her today.
Some religious leaders were critical of Trump using damnation as a political taunt, though the president’s evangelical supports have remained steadfast.
John Dingell’s death in February, after complications from prostate cancer, drew a bipartisan outpouring of love and condolences. On Feb. 8, the day after he died, Trump issued a presidential proclamation lowering the flags to half-staff for one day “as a mark of respect for the memory and longstanding service” of the congressman.
Trump’s remarks Wednesday echo his unrelenting attacks against the late senator John McCain of Arizona even after his death, which have drawn criticism from Republicans. In the same way Trump attacked Dingell for voting to impeach him despite “A-plus treatment” for her deceased husband, he went after McCain’s loved ones for not sufficiently thanking him for McCain’s funeral.
“I gave him the kind of funeral he wanted, which as president I had to approve,” Trump inaccurately said in March, apparently referring to authorizing the military transport of McCain’s body. “I don’t care about this. I didn’t get a thank-you — that’s okay. We sent him on the way.”
Trump’s comments targeting the Dingells appeared to particularly resonate with McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain. She told Dingell on Twitter: “I’m terribly sorry. Please know I am thinking about you.”