Democrats defeat House GOP effort to censure Maxine Waters

Vote comes amid jury finding Derek Chauvin guilty

House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters arrives for a markup Tuesday. The chamber voted later in the day to table a censure resolution Republicans filed against her. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters arrives for a markup Tuesday. The chamber voted later in the day to table a censure resolution Republicans filed against her. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted April 20, 2021 at 5:49pm

House Democrats voted Tuesday to kill a resolution from Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to censure Rep. Maxine Waters for saying over the weekend that Black Lives Matter protesters would need to “get more confrontational” if Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was acquitted of murdering George Floyd.

As it turned out, the vote happened as a Minnesota jury was preparing to find Chauvin guilty on all counts.

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McCarthy’s resolution to censure Waters, a California Democrat, was privileged, meaning he could force a floor vote on the matter. Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer moved to table the resolution, which the House agreed to on a 216-210 party-line vote.

Tabling the resolution effectively kills it, but it likely won’t stop stop Republicans from attacking Waters or Democrats from chastising the GOP for singling out her remarks — and without acknowledging incendiary rhetoric from members of their own party. The House earlier this year impeached former President Donald Trump for inciting violence and an insurrection on the Capitol with remarks he made to his supporters before thousands of them stormed the building on Jan. 6.

Waters has long been a target of GOP attacks, with Trump frequently naming her in tweets before he was banned from the platform.

But the latest GOP broadside against Waters came after she visited Brooklyn Center, Minn., on Saturday to support protests against police brutality.

A Brooklyn Center police officer shot and killed 20-year-old Black man Daunte Wright during a traffic stop. That shooting outside Minneapolis occurred not far from where Floyd was killed and the courthouse where Chauvin was being tried.

Waters, answering questions outside the Brooklyn Center protests, said Chauvin should be found guilty of murder and that if he was acquitted, protesters should remain active and “get more confrontational.”

“We’ve got to stay on the street, and we’ve got to get more active,” she said. “We’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.”

Republicans said Waters’ remarks were a call for protesters to be violent. McCarthy tweeted Sunday that if Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not take action against such “dangerous rhetoric,” he would bring action against her.

‘Confronting the justice system’

Waters, in an interview with TheGrio, said her remarks were not intended to encourage violence.

“I talk about confronting the justice system, confronting the policing that’s going on,” she said. “I’m talking about speaking up. I’m talking about legislation. I’m talking about elected officials doing what needs to be done to control their budgets and to pass legislation.”

Waters said she wasn’t surprised Republicans were trying to distort her remarks and suggested they were doing it for political messaging and fundraising purposes.

“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,” she said.

Pelosi defended Waters on Monday, telling reporters that her fellow California Democrat did not need to apologize for her remarks.

“Maxine talked about confrontation in the manner of the civil rights movement,” Pelosi said.

Asked if she thought Waters’ comments incited violence, Pelosi said, “No, absolutely not.”

A few hours later, McCarthy criticized Pelosi for “ignoring Waters’ behavior” and announced on Twitter that he planned to introduce a resolution to censure the Southern California congresswoman.

Chauvin judge weighs in

Adding to Republicans’ fuel, the judge overseeing Chauvin’s trial suggested the defense could use Waters’ comments to try to overturn a conviction if the jury found Chauvin guilty.

“I’ll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned,” Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill said Monday after closing arguments.

“I wish that elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch and our function,” Cahill added. “I think if they want to give their opinions, they should do so in a respectful manner and in a manner that is consistent with their oath to the Constitution, to respect the coequal branch of government. Their failure to do so, I think, is abhorrent.”

Waters is not the only public official to weigh in on Chauvin’s case.

Pelosi put out a statement Monday that seemed to call for a conviction, saying, “As outraged as we are by his death, let us be prayerful that the truth will prevail and will honor George Floyd’s memory.”

President Joe Biden said Tuesday he was praying the verdict “is the right verdict.”

“I think it’s overwhelming, in my view,” he said, seeming to suggest Chauvin should be convicted.

Offered without comment

McCarthy offered the censure resolution on the floor Tuesday without making remarks about Waters. House Republican leaders were asked about the resolution during a press availability Tuesday after their weekly conference meeting but McCarthy was not present.

“The fact that Speaker Pelosi covered for her — [Waters] was trying to incite violence and in fact there is violence going on right now in Minnesota because of her actions,” Minority Whip Steve Scalise said, fielding the question. “This isn’t the first time she’s made those kind of inflammatory comments. So you’re going to see Leader McCarthy bring a censure resolution to the floor. I’d like to see Maxine Waters apologize for the inflammatory comments that she’s made inciting violence. It’s a powder keg down there. The last thing you want to do is make it worse.”

Scalise was then asked if Republicans like Rep. Mo Brooks, who spoke to Trump supporters on Jan. 6 with rhetoric that seemed to encourage violence, should apologize for similar remarks. The Louisiana Republican avoided directly answering, again putting the onus on Democrats.

“It’s time for Democrats to speak out when they see it on both sides,” Scalise said. “They only want to speak out on one side of the aisle, not on both. And that hypocrisy is starting to shine through.”

Scalise was the only leader to address the Waters censure effort during the news conference, but House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney told reporters afterward that she also supported it.

“I’ve been really clear that no elected official should ever incite violence, and she should not have incited violence. She did,” Cheney said. “The speaker’s wrong in terms of not holding her accountable for that.”

‘Focus on his own conference’

Meanwhile, House Democratic leaders eagerly defended Waters during their own press availabilities Tuesday.

“I certainly will not support that frivolous resolution,” Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries said, pointing out that Waters made clear she was urging peaceful protests.

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,” Jeffries added. “When you think that Kevin McCarthy has the nerve to say something about anyone when he supported the violent insurrection after the mob attacked the Capitol, threatened to assassinate Nancy Pelosi, kill other members of Congress, hang Mike Pence, he then came back to the Capitol, voted to support the big lie, which ignited the violent insurrection, and continues to play footsie with Donald Trump.”

Jeffries specifically called out GOP Reps. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia as examples of the “mess” in the Republican Conference.

“Clean up your mess, Kevin. Sit this one out,” he said. “You’ve got no credibility here. We support peaceful protests.”

Hoyer, likewise, dismissed the censure effort as McCarthy trying to create a distraction from his own members’ incendiary comments.

“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,” the Maryland Democrat said.

Hoyer specifically mentioned Greene’s liking of a social media post about shooting Pelosi to shut her up.

“It’s just incredible that they would try to make some analogy between Maxine Waters, who’s been a nonviolent person all of her life,” he said. “I just think it’s absurd, and it ought to be roundly rejected.”

Hoyer similarly defended Waters in floor remarks before McCarthy offered his resolution, asking members to pull out their dictionaries and look up the definition of confront.

“Confront is to face the facts. Confront is to face the truth. Confront is to face the challenges that we have,” he said. “And that is what Ms. Waters urged.”

“If confrontation is subject to sanction, then we’re going to have a lot of people on your side of the aisle who we believe are confrontational every day,” Hoyer warned Republicans.

Megan Mineiro contributed to this report.