President Trump sought Tuesday to keep a spotlight on Rep. Maxine Waters, a veteran Democratic lawmaker whose call for aggressive protests of administration officials prompted rebukes from members of both parties.
In a morning tweet, Trump said that the California congresswoman is now “the face of the Democrats” and that Waters and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) make a “fine leadership team.”
“They should always stay together and lead the Democrats, who want Open Borders and Unlimited Crime, well into the future....and pick Crooked Hillary for Pres,” Trump wrote, referring to Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s campaign also made a mention of Waters later Tuesday in a fundraising email to supporters under the subject line “Harassment.”
Trump’s tweet was an attempt to leverage more political advantage from a Los Angeles rally over the weekend at which Waters 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!”
Her call for political harassment was criticized Monday by Republicans and Democrats, including Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
At a news conference Tuesday, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) called on Waters to apologize.
“There’s no place for this,” Ryan said. “She obviously should apologize. . . . There’s no place for that in our public discourse.”
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) also cautioned against using language that could incite others to violence.
“I know firsthand we’ve got to be real careful about how we discuss our differences,” said Scalise, who was shot at a congressional baseball practice last year by a gunman who had posted anti-Trump rhetoric on his Facebook page and written letters to his hometown newspaper blaming Republicans for what he considered an agenda favoring the wealthy.
Trump’s tweet about Waters was his second in as many days. On Monday afternoon, he called the congresswoman “an extraordinarily low IQ person” and appeared to issue a veiled threat.
“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!”
Trump’s tweeting about Waters mirrors the Republican focus over the past year on high-profile Democrats, such as Pelosi and Clinton, said Adam Parkhomenko, a longtime Clinton adviser.
“They’re trying to use Waters, Pelosi and Clinton against Democrats in every way, shape and form,” Parkhomenko said. “It’s a way for them to drive fundraising and excitement on their side.” But many Democratic consultants are confident that unlike in past election cycles, where Pelosi and Clinton were dominant targets, this year will probably be all about Trump, Parkhomenko said.
In media interviews Monday night, Waters said Trump mischaracterized her comments. “I did not call for harm for anybody,” she said on MSNBC. “The president lied again.” She also read a list of times that Trump has publicly called for violence.
Waters made her comments after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked by the owner of a Virginia restaurant to leave the establishment Friday night.
Protests of administration officials continued Monday night, with a group gathering outside the Washington home of White House policy adviser Stephen Miller. He was traveling with Trump in South Carolina at the time.
Last week, a group of about two dozen people gathered outside the home of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and protested for about an hour.
In Tuesday’s fundraising email, Trump’s campaign seized on such protests and Waters’s remarks, using them in an effort to rally supporters.
“Sarah Huckabee Sanders was kicked out of a restaurant,” the email reads. “Kirstjen Nielsen was harassed in her own home. Homeland Security staffers have been warned of ‘increased threats’ from the open borders mob. And now Democrat Maxine Waters is calling for MORE HARASSMENT of the Silent Majority.”
“The Left is trying to bully and buy their way back into power,” the message continues. “Not on my watch. I will always stand up for you.”
Democrats continued to be pressed about their reaction to Waters on morning news shows Tuesday.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for any of us to condone any political harassment,” Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) said on Fox News when asked about Waters’s comments.
Ryan, who unsuccessfully challenged Pelosi for minority leader after the 2016 election, said Trump was largely to blame for the breakdown in civility in the nation’s politics.
“This has started under his watch, and unfortunately it’s gotten to this point,” Ryan said. He said Democrats need “to kind of move on” and talk about issues important to voters.
Several rank-and-file Republicans made clear that they are not ready to move on.
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) said he is leading an effort to censure Waters in the House and called for her resignation.
“I think the hard left in this country is just totally off the rails,” DeSantis said during an interview on Fox News. “And Maxine Waters is really the pied piper for the unhinged left with her rantings and ravings, which has been going on for a long time, but what she did this weekend I think crossed a clear line.”
DeSantis has been endorsed by Trump in his bid to become Florida’s next governor. A Fox News poll released last week showed DeSantis trailing Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, 32 percent to 17 percent, in the Republican primary, with a large number of voters undecided.
Republicans in Congress have been less outspoken about transgressions by members of their own party.
GOP lawmakers were largely silent this month after Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) shared a social media post from a British white nationalist who has described himself in the past as an admirer of Adolf Hitler’s Germany and a “Nazi sympathizer.”
Robert Costa and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.