Congress

Rep. Cleaver: ‘Forget’ Trump's tweets... ‘We can't continue to react to this’

Missouri Democrat abandoned House presiding chair amid partisan bickering over vote to condemn Trump’s racist tweets

Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver abandoned the presiding chair of the House Tuesday amid partisan bickering over a resolution to condemn President Donald Trump’s racist tweets against four Democratic congresswomen. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A day after Rep. Emanuel Cleaver abandoned his post presiding over House proceedings in frustration over bickering between Republicans and Democrats, the Missouri Democrat urged lawmakers and the American people to ignore President Donald Trump’s online antics as he “tweets away his presidency.”

“We can’t continue to react to this,” Cleaver said Wednesday on CNN’s “New Day” about the chaos that ensued as Democrats tried to hold a vote to condemn racist tweets the president posted over the weekend attacking four minority female congresswomen.

“He’s going to insult some others, he’s going to speak some untruths and so forth — we need to just let him hang out at the White House and do that,” Cleaver said.

On Tuesday, the House eventually voted, 240-187, to approve a nonbinding resolution that that “strongly” condemned Trump’s “racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.”

In the end, four Republicans — Susan W. Brooks of Indiana, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Will Hurd of Texas and Fred Upton of Michigan — and independent Justin Amash of Michigan, who withdrew from the GOP last week, voted with all 235 Democrats in favor of the resolution.

In a series of inflammatory tweets on Sunday, Trump told Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came" and "show us how it is done."

He falsely claimed they all “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world.”

Only Omar, a naturalized American citizen from Somalia, was born outside the United States.

[With racist tweets and comments, Trump signals bare-knuckle reelection fight]

Getting to that vote on Tuesday to condemn Trump’s tweets was an extraordinary journey stretching more than six hours. Lawmakers spent much of the afternoon in emotional upheaval, with members on both sides of the aisle seeking to strike their colleagues’ words from the record, including those of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Members who are immigrants affirmed their love of the USA in stark terms. In the middle of the chaos, Cleaver abruptly dropped the gavel and left the presiding officer’s post — a move that members and longtime chamber observers said was unlike anything they had ever seen before. 

“Frankly I was embarrassed to remain as the chair presiding over what should have been a very shameful moment for all of us,” Cleaver said Wednesday, adding that handfuls of members from both parties violated the rules by using barred language and speaking out of order.

“My goal was: This is ugly, it’s embarrassing internationally, it’s embarrassing for our children — let’s just get through this,” Cleaver said. “Can you imagine what the world was thinking as they watched this [dysfunction] here in Washington?”

Under House rules, lawmakers cannot “engage in personalities” against the president, meaning they are not supposed to impugn the character or intent of whoever occupies the White House.

Under Jefferson’s Manual, the text governing procedure of the chamber specifically bars references to racial or other discrimination by the president. Remarks by House members cannot refer to the president as racist or the president “having made a bigoted or racist statement.”

Cleaver admitted Wednesday that the nonbinding resolution the Democrats passed condemning Trump violated the House rules. When Pelosi repeated the language of the resolution in a statement on the House floor, Republicans were technically correct when they alleged that that, too, was a violation, Cleaver said.

“Every person who spoke violated the House rules,” he said.

Cleaver suggested Wednesday that if the decision had been his, his party wouldn’t have spent a day during the legislative business week concerning themselves with Trump’s tweets, which he believes were calculated to elicit a response from Democrats.

“My suggestion to the House and the Senate and the people of the country is to forget the man’s tweets. He’s playing us like a Stradivarius. He knows that there will be a reaction, and he also knows that a portion of his base is OK with him insulting people,” Cleaver said.

“That’s unfortunate for the United States of America.”

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