President Trump warned Rep. Maxine Waters on Monday to “be careful what you wish for,” offering a provocative rebuke to the California Democrat who has called for the continuing public harassment of Trump administration officials.
“She has just called for harm to supporters, of which there are many, of the Make America Great Again movement,” Trump wrote. “Be careful what you wish for Max!”
Waters, who has represented various Southern California districts in Congress since 1991, leaned into her more recent role as a leader of the anti-Trump resistance over the weekend, earning widespread condemnation as she called for the public to “absolutely harass” Trump's Cabinet officials on the streets, lest they help their boss turn the presidency into a dictatorship.
“The American people have put up with this president long enough. What more do we need to see? What more lies do we need to hear?” Waters shouted at a rally in Los Angeles on Saturday. “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!”
Her comments came a day after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave a restaurant.
At Monday's White House press briefing, Sanders referred to the incident and said that all people regardless of their political persuasion should be allowed to disagree "freely and without fear of harm."
"Healthy debate on ideas and political philosophy is important, but the calls for harassment and push for any Trump supporter to avoid the public is unacceptable," Sanders said. "America is a great country and our ability to find solutions despite disagreements is what makes us unique."
Sanders's aborted dinner party followed spontaneous street protests against other Trump aides and allies, including Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who left a Mexican restaurant to cries of “Shame!” last week.
The flash mobs are inspired, in particular, by the administration's new “zero tolerance” policy on undocumented migrants, whom Trump said should be stripped of their due-process rights.
But Waters's indignation encompasses the entire Trump presidency — not just what he has done but who she says he is.
“He loves the strongmen and the dictators of the world because he wants to be just like them. He wants to run the country like them,” the congresswoman told MSNBC on Sunday, a day after her rally.
“And I want to tell you,” she said, “for these members of his Cabinet who remain and try to defend him, they're not going to be able to go to a restaurant, to be able to stop at a gas station, to be able to shop at a department store. The people are going to turn on them, they're going to protest, they're going to absolutely harass them until they tell the president: 'No, I can't hang with you.' ”
Her call to drive Trump officials from public life has made her a hero to many on the left — and has disturbed not only Trump supporters but some moderates and Democrats who accuse her of hastening the country's descent from centuries-old civic standards.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pushed back against Waters in a Monday-morning tweet that referenced a news story about her colleague's comments.
“In the crucial months ahead, we must strive to make America beautiful again,” wrote Pelosi, who herself has been shouted down by left-wing protesters in San Francisco. “Trump’s daily lack of civility has provoked responses that are predictable but unacceptable. As we go forward, we must conduct elections in a way that achieves unity from sea to shining sea.”
Some Republicans were less subtle in their condemnation of Waters.
Appearing on Fox News, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said what Waters was doing is “very dangerous.”
“She should apologize to the American public,” McCarthy said. He also urged Pelosi to stand up to her.
“The people who claim tolerance seem to be the most intolerant in this process,” McCarthy said. “We need civility in this country.”
We’re a year past a lunatic opening fire on a group of Congressman practicing baseball. Maybe cool it on urging more private confrontations.— Rory Cooper (@rorycooper) June 24, 2018
“We’re kind of back to the Colonial era in terms of public shaming, with virtual and symbolic stocks in the public square rather than literal ones,” U.S. historian Jon Meacham told The Washington Post's Mary Jordan.
He called this a perhaps uniquely “tribal moment” in the country's history.
Without mentioning Waters, David Axelrod, former president Barack Obama's onetime chief strategist, wrote he was “kind of amazed and appalled by the number of folks on the Left who applauded” Sanders's expulsion from a restaurant.
As of Monday morning, the right-leaning Drudge Report was devoting the top section of its front page to a teeth-gritting photo of Waters, who “orders MORE public harassment of Trump aides.”
Waters's opponent in the coming election, Republican Omar Navarro, has tried to turn the outrage into a boost for his long-shot campaign to unseat her.
The congresswoman's office could not immediately be reached for comment on the reaction.
David Weigel contributed to this report.