The Young Turks reporter asked the congresswoman why she's been so focused on the Russia controversy. “Russia is not our friend,” Waters said, adding that the country has sought to undermine the United States's democracy by meddling in the presidential elections. Tracey then used Waters's own words in asking his second question: If Russia is not a friend of the United States, was it a mistake then for former president Barack Obama to forge military cooperation with Russia in Syria?
That question seemed to have set Waters off.
“You and I have a different agenda, young man. I'm out to impeach this president. Get that straight. I'm out to impeach the president,” Waters said, her voice raising. “I'm not going to be diverted by people who are Obama haters.”
By then, people had gathered around Waters and Tracey, some of whom can be seen capturing the exchange with their phone cameras. Before Tracey can ask another question, Waters walked away and used her right hand to push aside Tracey's right hand, which was holding a microphone aimed toward her face.
“She pushed me aside, but it's OK … I thought I asked fair questions,” Tracey said toward his camera man, who kept filming.
You can watch the entire exchange here:
So is it a shove? Or is it not a shove?
In an interview Sunday morning with MSNBC's Joy Reid, Waters said Tracey's account of the encounter was not true.
“This 125-pound woman is not around pushing these big men. So he just lied,” Waters said. “If you look at the video, it shows you that was no pushing. I walked away from him.”
After his initial tweet, Tracey found himself in a Twitter debate about the incident. Some argued that “shove” was too strong of a verb to describe the amount of force that Waters used, and that the congresswoman was simply moving the microphone out of her way.
At one point, Tracey said he's responding to “gross distortions” of his description of the encounter with Waters. He also said that the “shove” was not violent and was in no way comparable to Montana Republican Greg Gianforte allegedly body slamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, but was still unnecessary physical contact. (Gianforte was elected to represent Montana in the House of Representatives despite the allegations.)
Others questioned why Tracey was tweeting about the incident in the first place.
“There's no 'there' there,” fellow Young Turks reporter Nomiki Konst said.
By Saturday evening, Tracey posted a statement on Twitter, further explaining his choice of verb.
“I've interviewed many members of Congress and never once have any of them initiated unwarranted physical contact. Maxine Waters did just that today,” he wrote, adding later: “The words 'push' or 'swat' would also be apt descriptors — anything that connotes 'unwarranted physical contact.' I wasn't meaningfully impeding her path: there was no reason for contact … The semantics are immaterial here, as it obviously doesn't rise to the level of an assault or anything remotely criminal. It just shows Waters to be erratic, intemperate, and unprofessional.”
In the MSNBC interview, Waters dismissed Tracey as a right-wing supporter who's out to harass and intimidate her. (Tracey works for Young Turks, a video news network popular among progressive voters.)
“They're going to continue to harass me, but that's okay. I'm accustomed to being harassed,” Waters said. “I'm not afraid of them. I'm going to continue to speak my mind in the way that I do.”
Tracey, who called Gianforte a “thug” after he was accused of body slamming Jacobs, has written critically about Democrats and the alleged Trump-Russia collusion.
“It's seldom clear what, at bottom, is even being alleged. The 'scandal' has become more of a repository of generalized anti-Trump anger than a clearly-defined set of charges that can be investigated and corroborated,” Tracey wrote last month in a column with the headline, “How Democrats are fooling themselves about the Trump Russia scandal.
But he also was critical of President Trump, saying the president's “self-defeating actions” on the Russia investigation only reinforce the notion that he has something to hide.
“The possibility that he committed obstruction of justice by firing FBI director James Comey is real,” Tracey wrote.
Waters has become increasingly in the spotlight these past few months after former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly disparaged her because of her appearance, comparing her hair to a “James Brown wig.” O'Reilly later apologized, calling his comments “dumb.”
In response, Waters said: “I'm a strong black woman and I cannot be intimidated. I cannot be undermined.”
The 78-year-old congresswoman has since become one of the loudest and most vocal Democratic voices calling for the president's impeachment.
“Donald Trump is someone that found his way to the presidency of the United States of America — I still don't know how. But he's someone that I'm committed to getting impeached,” she said in front of a cheering crowd last month. “He's a liar! He's a cheat! He's a con man! We've got to stop his ass!”
Vanessa Williams and Amy B Wang contributed to this story.