McCarthy to move to formally censure Maxine Waters for "confrontation" comments

AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool

I understand the strategy here, but it’s also easy to guess how Democrats will respond.

“This weekend in Minnesota, Maxine Waters broke the law by violating curfew and then incited violence. Increased unrest has already led to violence against law enforcement and her comments intentionally poured fuel on the fire,” McCarthy said. “We’ve heard this type of violent rhetoric from Waters before, and the United States Congress must clearly and without reservation reprimand this behavior before more people get hurt. But Speaker Pelosi is ignoring Waters’ behavior. That’s why I am introducing a resolution to censure Rep. Waters for these dangerous comments, and I hope that all my colleagues – both Republican and Democrat – will stand up for peace on America’s streets.”…

Pelosi’s and Waters’ after-the-fact defense of Waters’ comments this weekend aside, the matter of a censure vote comes to simple math in the House of Representatives. Democrats have a very slim majority, and assuming all current members of the House vote on this forthcoming privileged censure resolution, Pelosi and Waters can only afford to lose two Democrats and block the measure. If three House Democrats join with all House Republicans in approving the censure, then efforts to defend Waters would fail and the censure measure would succeed.

The last time the House censured anyone was Charlie Rangel in 2010. They’ve only done it 23 times in U.S. history. If you believe this thinly sourced Fox News piece, Waters stands a decent chance of becoming number 24 since House Dems reportedly are “revolted” by her comments over the weekend calling on protesters to get “more confrontational” if Derek Chauvin is acquitted. Quote: “Fox is told that a lot of Democrats are angry at Waters, are concerned about the optics of potential violence being linked back to her and Democrats generally. Don’t forget how many moderate Democrats were beside themselves following the midterms and the ‘defund the police’ movement.”

That’s the strategy. McCarthy knows that a censure resolution is “privileged,” which means the majority has to take some action on it expeditiously. They can’t just ignore it the way they typically do bills offered by the minority. They could vote to table it, or they could vote to refer it to some committee (e.g., the Ethics Committee), but the dilemma for Pelosi is that either of those actions will be spun by the House GOP as tacit approval of Waters’s comments. “See? For all their criticism of the insurrection, Democrats don’t really care about discouraging political violence. Including and especially when the likely target is the police.” That’s a bad message for centrist Dems to have to deal with, since Fox is right that the “defund the police” chatter last year seems to have hurt the party badly in swing districts. McCarthy’s resolution will create a thorny dilemma for those centrist Dems: Do they protect Waters by voting to table the censure resolution, knowing that they’ll be savaged by GOP attacks ads for doing so? Or do they censure Waters, knowing that they’ll be savaged by progressives for treating one of their own more harshly than Paul Gosar or Andy Biggs or Mo Brooks or any of the other “stop the steal” cheerleaders in the House who helped incite the January 6 attack?

It could get really thorny for Dems if the worst happens and we see riots this week following the Chauvin verdict. Imagine having to decide whether to support a censure resolution chastising Waters for having irresponsibly egged on “confrontation” at a moment when American cities are burning. With top police officials saying stuff like this:

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea blasted Rep. Maxine Waters’ comments urging Minnesota protesters to “get more confrontational” as “incredibly reckless” — and said he has “even stronger feelings” he won’t air publicly…

“We just had an officer having Molotov cocktails thrown at their car last week,” he replied. “We had similar hate speech last year, and we had an officer sitting in his car shot across his face. We’ve seen this multiple times. For an elected official in this country to be advocating [for] getting tougher on cops at this time, is beyond me. I cannot repeat what I think.”

Republican aides were crowing last night to reporters that centrist Dems are now between a rock and a hard place, which is true. So what are Pelosi and her team going to do about it?

Probably the same thing they did a few years ago when Republicans were clamoring to censure Ilhan Omar. They’re going to write their own resolution which will make clear that they oppose violence against the police, will criticize Waters in oblique terms without naming her (e.g., “we oppose all forms of violent ‘confrontation’ by protesters”), and will tear into Trump and possibly his cronies in the House who egged on the effort to block Congress from certifying Biden’s victory that ultimately led to the insurrection. If centrist Dems know they can vote for that instead, they’ll be willing to table McCarthy’s resolution. Then they can go home to their districts and say to everyone that they supported a resolution condemning all calls for political violence, including Waters’s. Meanwhile, Republicans will be put on the spot in having to decide whether to support a resolution that condemns Trump even though it also affirms support for the police. If they vote no to protect Trump then Dems and the media can use that against them. “Why won’t the GOP condemn the violence at the insurrection?” For example:

All of that being so, is it worth it to McCarthy to try to censure Waters? Arguably … yeah. For the simple reason that “defund the police” appears to have been such a heavy weight around Democrats’ ankles in the last election that getting centrists to vote no on his censure resolution is a good attack line for the GOP even though those same centrists will get to support a substitute resolution offered by Pelosi instead. And it also gives Republicans some easy “tu quoque” material the next time Democrats attack them for not taking the Capitol riot more seriously. If you take it so seriously, McCarthy will say, why didn’t you want to censure Waters?

I’ll leave you with this, evidence of how awkward this has already become for Waters. She can’t even acknowledge what the judge said yesterday.