President Donald Trump lied on Wednesday about the nature of a phone call with Rep. Debbie Dingell in February after the death of her husband, former Rep. John Dingell, she said in an interview Thursday.
Speaking at a campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan, Trump told his version of the story to a crowd of more than 9,000 people as he lambasted Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, for voting to impeach him that night.
Last winter, the president ensured that John Dingell, a World War II veteran who served 60 years in the House from 1955 to 2015, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery and ordered federal buildings across the country to lower their flags.
Debbie Dingell “called me up and said it was the nicest thing and John would have been so pleased,” Trump said, suggesting that the congresswoman dialed him up with a tone of desperation asking that her late husband be showered with accolades.
Trump added that Dingell then told him her husband would be happily looking down from heaven on the funeral service.
“Maybe he’s looking up,” Trump said at the rally Wednesday, implying that John Dingell had gone to hell after his death. “I don’t know. Let’s assume he’s looking down,” Trump said.
“I didn’t call him. He called me, to tell me he was lowering the flags. And that meant a lot,” said the Michigan congresswoman, who won her late husband’s seat in 2015 after he retired. “John Dingell earned his burial at Arlington Cemetery because he’s a World War II veteran, [the] longest-serving member in the Congress. He loved our country.”
Asked to respond to the fact that the basis of Trump’s story — that she called him with a tone of desperation — was not true, the congresswoman declined, issuing a plea for more “civility in this country.”
“I don’t want to get into this tit-for-tat. That’s going down to his level,” she said. “Some things should be off limits. And you know what, we’re all human beings.”
Few Republicans have publicly criticized the president for his comments in Michigan about the Dingells, but Debbie Dingell said she had received support Wednesday night in real time from friends in the GOP, even as she was voting to impeach their leader in the White House.
“I was with Republican friends, very close friends, when this happened last night. They were all there for me. I’ve been with Kevin Brady already this morning,” she said, referring to the Texas Republican congressman who crafted the GOP’s 2017 tax code overhaul.
Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, tweeted Wednesday that Trump’s words were “most unfortunate and an apology is due.”
“I’ve always looked up to John Dingell — my good friend and a great Michigan legend. There was no need to ‘dis’ him in a crass political way,” Upton wrote.
I’ve always looked up to John Dingell — my good friend and a great Michigan legend. There was no need to ‘dis’ him in a crass political way. Most unfortunate and an apology is due.— Fred Upton (@RepFredUpton) December 19, 2019
CNN “New Day” anchor Alisyn Camerota read Upton’s Twitter statement on air to Dingell during the Thursday interview.
“I love Fred,” Dingell said. “He and I are a bipartisan team. We don’t always vote the same way, but when John died Fred was with me every step of the way. Drove to the House. Flew with me to Washington, flew back the first time. That’s what people do. You can disagree agreeably.”
Upton’s sentiments rang hollow with Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, who indicated the Michigan Republican missed his window to censure the president earlier Wednesday night during the impeachment vote.
“If only Mr. Upton had the opportunity to hold [Trump] accountable. Too bad there wasn’t, say, a vote tonight to do that,” Swalwell tweeted.
Other House Republicans started to emerge Thursday morning, criticizing Trump’s words and demanding an apology from the president.
“John Dingell was a well-respected man & I consider Debbie a close colleague and friend. To use his name in such a dishonorable manner at last night’s rally is unacceptable from anyone, let alone the President of the United States. An apology is due, Mr. President,” Michigan GOP Rep. Paul Mitchell tweeted, tagging Trump’s personal Twitter account.
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