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House rejects GOP attempt to censure Rep. Maxine Waters over remarks about Chauvin trial

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) gathers Tuesday with members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Capitol Hill while waiting for the verdict in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial. (Oliver Contreras for The Washington Post)

The House rejected a Republican attempt Tuesday to censure Rep. Maxine Waters for calling on protesters to “get more active” and “get more confrontational” if a jury voted to acquit former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd.

House Democratic leaders quickly came to Waters’s defense and denounced the resolution as a cynical political ploy to draw attention away from inflammatory and extremist remarks made by Republicans in recent months, including former president Donald Trump. They argued that Waters (D-Calif.) was calling for peaceful protests, not violence.

“I think 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 H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Tuesday.

Democrats held firm in their support for Waters, with all party members voting to “table,” or kill, 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.”

Chauvin trial verdict: Jury deliberations resume as nation awaits decision in landmark case on policing in America

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 A. Cahill, admonished her from the bench Monday. While dismissing a motion by the defense for a mistrial, he singled out Waters’s statement and said it could be an issue during an appeal if Chauvin was found guilty. He went on to criticize 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 Biden faced criticism on Tuesday as well 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 House vote occurred moments before the highly anticipated verdict in the Chauvin trial was read, with the former police officer being found guilty on all counts, including murder. The killing of Floyd, a Black man, in May led to a series of racial-
justice protests last summer in cities across the country, with demonstrators calling for an overhaul of 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.

‘The United States is in crisis’: Report tracks thousands of summer protests, most nonviolent

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 Trump supporters over the false claim that the election was stolen from him through voter fraud.

Ahead of the verdict, Minneapolis was bracing for potential unrest, buildings were boarded up and National Guard troops fanned out around the city. Republicans accused Waters of adding to the tensions with her comments, which she said were about peaceful actions and a call to action on civil rights.

Republicans on Tuesday volleyed the hypocrisy charge back at Democrats, saying they move to punish only 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,” House 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.”

Scalise also defended Trump over 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 them to head to the Capitol, where Congress was in the process of affirming Biden’s win. Shortly thereafter, a mob descended on the Capitol and broke into the building, battling police and forcing lawmakers to seek shelter in secure locations.

Scalise argued 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 digital publication theGrio 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.”

‘Auntie Maxine’ and the quest for impeachment

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 contend contributed to Democrats losing seats during the last election. 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 House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) also tried to clarify that Waters did not mean protesters should turn violent; rather, they said, she was hoping they would channel any frustrations and feelings of hopelessness into continuous, but peaceful, pressure campaigns advocating 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, singling out 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,” he 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.”

Rep. Greene’s fundraising haul alarms detractors, who warn she represents a dangerous side of American politics

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 the Californian Democrats at the time by referring to her as “an extraordinarily low IQ person.”

Greene also introduced a resolution to expel Waters, echoing other Republicans that Waters’s comments have threatened the well-being of the National Guard troops in Minnesota in case of unrest following 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 over 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--” ahead of their march on the Capitol, Scalise said he had “been very clear in speaking out against any rhetoric that incites violence” but did not say if 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 only 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.”