House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) on Wednesday sharply criticized the actions of protesters who have directly confronted Trump administration officials in recent days, saying that some of their behavior “borders on illegal.”
The No. 3 House Republican made his remarks in a one-on-one conversation with The Washington Post’s James Hohmann at a Daily 202 Live event. His rebuke comes amid an escalating feud over a call by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) at a Los Angeles rally on Saturday for demonstrators to confront administration officials wherever they go.
“I don’t think there’s any place for that kind of incivility of inciting harassment or violence of any sort. I mean, I’ve seen it firsthand,” said Scalise, who was seriously injured last year after being shot at a congressional baseball practice.
He continued: “I’ve seen the video from some of these incidents. It’s beyond offensive. I think some of it borders on illegal, when you see what some of these people are doing, getting in somebody’s face, trying to taunt them into a violent act. That’s not what our democracy is about.”
Waters has maintained she was encouraging peaceful protest and was not calling for demonstrators to harm anyone. At the rally, she had told supporters, “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!”
Yet the feud over her comments — as well as the at-times explosive faceoffs between demonstrators and Republican officials over the administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy — has raged on.
Last week, protesters demonstrated in front of the home of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and heckled her as she dined at a Mexican restaurant. Demonstrators also on Monday gathered at the apartment complex where White House policy adviser Stephen Miller lives.
And a video that circulated widely on Tuesday shows Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) being confronted by protesters at Georgetown University over the issue of immigration.
The Congressional Black Caucus has rallied behind Waters in recent days, while some Republicans are demanding her resignation.
In a statement Tuesday, CBC chairman Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.) issued a statement defending the 14-term lawmaker as someone who “has been a champion for justice her entire life.” He also pushed back against statements by President Trump and others who have cast Waters’s remarks at a Los Angeles rally Saturday as inciting violence.
“In exercising her constitutional right to freedom of speech at a recent rally, Congresswoman Waters did not, as she has made clear, encourage violence, like President Trump has been doing since the election,” Richmond said.
“She, instead, encouraged Americans to exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly by letting President Trump and members of his Administration know that separating young immigrant children from their parents is not who we are as a country,” he added.
Rep. Frederica S. Wilson, who is also a CBC member, sent out different versions of a tweet more than 90 times Wednesday morning defending Waters and urging other lawmakers to do the same.
“Too few members of Congress have the courage to speak their mind like @RepMaxineWaters,” Wilson wrote in one of the tweets. “She is unafraid to challenge White House policies that hurt people and dishonor our values. History will judge us on our silence. Silence is complicity. I applaud and #StandWithMaxine.”
Trump and Republican lawmakers have sought to leverage the remarks against Democrats, sparking a conversation on civil discourse that has threatened to overshadow last week’s debate over the administration’s immigration policy and the separation of migrant children from their parents.
In a tweet Monday, the president claimed Waters had “just called for harm” to his supporters and warned her to “be careful what you wish for.” He has since kept his focus on Waters as well as on another veteran Democratic lawmaker, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).
“Congratulations to Maxine Waters, whose crazy rants have made her, together with Nancy Pelosi, the unhinged FACE of the Democrat Party. Together, they will Make America Weak Again!” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. “But have no fear, America is now stronger than ever before, and I’m not going anywhere!” Trump’s campaign also made a mention of Waters on Tuesday in a fundraising email to supporters under the subject line “Harassment.”
Other Republicans have also stepped up their focus on Waters in recent days.
Earlier this week, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) introduced a measure in the House calling for the lawmaker’s censure and condemnation. In a statement, he referred to the shooting of Scalise and warned “we are returning to the vitriol of that day.”
The Republican National Committee has also joined in with a video seizing on the Waters flap. Set to ominous background music, the clip features images of a limo that was set aflame in Washington on the day of Trump’s inauguration as well as footage of some inflammatory comments by celebrities, including Madonna’s comment at last year’s Women’s March that she has thought about “blowing up the White House,” and a flip remark by actor Johnny Depp about assassinating the president.
“Maxine Waters’ threats are just the latest example of the Left becoming totally unhinged. It has to stop,” the RNC wrote on its Twitter account.
Democrats, meanwhile, have been divided in their response to the issue. While some have forcefully defended Waters, others, including Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), issued rebukes of Waters’s remarks without mentioning the lawmaker by name.
In an MSNBC interview Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) acknowledged “people have a right to be angry,” but counseled that rather than aggressively protest administration officials, they should “organize at the grass-roots level, win elections and get involved in the political process.”
“I think people have a right to go into a restaurant and have dinner,” Sanders said. “We should be mobilizing our people in a way that creates the kind of movement we need to create a government here in Washington that represents all of us, not just the 1 percent. That’s where we’ve got to place our energy.”