Conjuring memories of racially motivated murders and drawing an immediate bipartisan backlash, President Donald Trump on Tuesday described House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry as a “lynching.”
Trump made the statement in a morning tweet that began with a warning that “if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights.”
Then, for reasons that remain unclear, he opted to poke unhealed wounds from America’s difficult — and bloody — racial history, writing: “All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here — a lynching. But we will WIN!”
So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here - a lynching. But we will WIN!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 22, 2019
While Trump often savages the Democrats’ impeachment investigation, it was the first time he has used that word in a tweet, according to the independent Trump Twitter Archive website.
Data compiled by the NAACP shows there were 4,743 lynchings in the U.S. from 1882 until 1968, and 3,446 of lynching victims were black. That’s 72.7 percent of all lynching victims during the same span.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, the highest ranking African American in Congress, was on CNN minutes after Trump posted the tweet, and called it offensive. He noted that no other president who has faced an impeachment inquiry or the inevitability of one — citing Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon — ever resorted to such racially charged language in an attempt to cast himself as a victim.
Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen Bass lit into Trump for the comparison, expressing incredulity over his comment.
"You are comparing a constitutional process to the PREVALENT and SYSTEMATIC brutal torture of people in THIS COUNTRY that looked like me?" the California Democrat tweeted.
You are comparing a constitutional process to the PREVALENT and SYSTEMATIC brutal torture of people in THIS COUNTRY that looked like me? https://t.co/3v4oMuPC6C— Congressmember Bass (@RepKarenBass) October 22, 2019
Illinois Democratic Rep. Bobby L. Rush echoed Clyburn and Bass' sentiment.
“You think this impeachment is a LYNCHING? What the hell is wrong with you?” the black lawmaker wrote, addressing the president. “Do you know how many people who look like me have been lynched, since the inception of this country, by people who look like you.”
Rush then offered Trump some advice: “Delete this tweet.”
You think this impeachment is a LYNCHING? What the hell is wrong with you?Do you know how many people who look like me have been lynched, since the inception of this country, by people who look like you. Delete this tweet. https://t.co/oTMhWo4awR — Bobby L. Rush (@RepBobbyRush) October 22, 2019
George Conway, husband of senior White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, tagged the president in a tweet and told him, “You truly are deranged.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is running to take on Trump next year, called his use of the term “abhorrent.”
Impeachment is not "lynching," it is part of our Constitution. Our country has a dark, shameful history with lynching, and to even think about making this comparison is abhorrent. It's despicable. https://t.co/QcC25vhNeb— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) October 22, 2019
While most of the initial reaction to the president’s tweet was overwhelmingly negative, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s staunchest defenders, had his back. Graham said the comparison was accurate and used it himself.
“Mob rule is what lynching is all about. You grab somebody because you don't like them,” Graham said.
He said that calling the impeachment inquiry a political lynching is accurate, because Democrats are taking the law into their own hands with their handling of the investigation.
“You may not like the word. Call it a kangaroo court, call it a sham. The story here is not the word,” he told reporters.
He distanced lynching from its deep racial history in America, saying “A lot of people have been lynched throughout the world,” when asked about the racial connotations of the term.
Graham differentiated between a political lynching and a physical lynching, saying that he’s comfortable calling the current situation a political lynching.
“Nobody is saying they're trying to kill the president, they’re trying to destroy him politically,” he said. “Impeachment is a death penalty for a politician.”
Jaime Harrison, Graham’s Democratic opponent for his Senate seat next year who is black, said Graham’s defense of Trump “spits on the values we hold dear as South Carolinians.”
“For three generations in South Carolina, we have understood the evil history of lynching in our state. We have all — Democrats, Republicans, Independents — agreed it will not define who we are as South Carolinians anymore,” Harrison said in a statement. “We put the shadow of lynching behind us, but now Lindsey Graham is casting that shadow across South Carolina and our nation to defend Donald Trump.”
Harrison invited Graham to join him at Friday’s groundbreaking for the International African-American Museum in Charleston.
At least 164 people were lynched in South Carolina in the Jim Crow era between 1877 and 1950, according to a report from the Equal Justice Initiative from 2015.
Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins didn’t share Graham’s opinion, saying “‘Lynching’ brings back images of a terrible time in our nation’s history, and the President never should have made that comparison.”
“Lynching” brings back images of a terrible time in our nation’s history, and the President never should have made that comparison.— Sen. Susan Collins (@SenatorCollins) October 22, 2019
One of Trump’s top spokesmen tried to defend the president’s choice of the word by saying the president has been treated unfairly by the media and House Democrats.
“The president wasn't trying to compare himself to the horrific history in this country at all,” White House Principal Deputy Secretary J. Hogan Gidley told reporters. “He has used many words to describe how he has been relentlessly attacked by the media.
“The president was clearly articulating the way he feels he’s been treated by the media. … The president’s not comparing what’s happened to him to one of the country’s darkest moments,” Gidley said. “He has been receiving no due process.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy did not support Trump’s tweet, though he did not unequivocally denounce it either.
“That’s not the language I would use,” the California Republican told reporters.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise said Trump “could have used different language.”
Conservative commentator Erick Erickson was one of the first notable Republicans to call out Trump, declaring on Twitter: “It is not a lynching.”
“Let’s not start dropping words that are important with real historic meaning where we water them down to nothing,” he wrote.
It is not a lynching. Let's not start dropping words that are important with real historic meaning where we water them down to nothing. https://t.co/6WDtPoV61Y— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) October 22, 2019
The president’s tweet came shortly before the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor was set to testify before the House panel leading the inquiry. Taylor raised questions about a possible quid pro quo coming straight from the White House involving a military aid package to Ukraine and a presidential desire its government investigate his Democratic rivals at home.
Bridget Bowman, Griffin Connolly, Niels Lesniewski, Lindsey McPherson and Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.
Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.