Surprise: Dems nuke McCarthy's resolution to censure Maxine Waters without offering an alternative

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Not the most surprising news of the afternoon, but still pretty surprising!

It was a cinch that Democrats were going to table Kevin McCarthy’s resolution and avoid censuring Maxine Waters. If the insurrection hadn’t happened, maaaaaaybe there would have been a slight chance of getting a handful of centrist Dems to split off and join Republicans on censure. That way those Democrats could go back to their purple districts and say, “See, I’m anti-riot and pro-cop.” But once the hardcore MAGA contingent in the House was let off scot free for encouraging the January 6 rally that turned into a riot, it became impossible for centrists in her own party to punish Waters. There was no way they could tell the left that she deserved a formal rebuke but Paul Gosar didn’t.

The surprising part is that Pelosi didn’t bother to give them any cover by offering her own watered-down alternative to McCarthy’s resolution. As a reward for nuking his bill, she could have written one of her own emphasizing that Congress supports all police officers who do their duties responsibly, that it opposes unlawful violence by police officers and protesters alike, and that any member of Congress who encourages that violence by egging on riots in the streets or at the Capitol is rebuked. Then centrist Dems would have something they could show their constituents as proof that voting against McCarthy’s resolution doesn’t mean they’re on Waters’s side.

Why didn’t Pelosi do that? What we got instead this afternoon was a straight up-or-down vote on McCarthy’s bill, which predictably ended up falling along party lines:

House Democratic leaders quickly came to Waters’ defense and denounced the resolution as a cynical political ploy to draw attention away from inflammatory and extremist remarks recently made by Republicans, including former president Trump, and argued Waters (D-Calif.) was calling for peaceful protests, not violence.

“I think 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,” Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Tuesday.

The party-line vote to table, or kill, the censure resolution was 216 to 210.

A six-vote margin. All McCarthy needed was four Dems to flip and he would have had Waters. And if you believe Politico, a few were thinking about it:

Three or four centrist Democrats privately considered backing the effort to reprimand Waters, arguing that her comments were out of line with the nation already on edge this week, according to multiple congressional sources. But Democratic leaders, who have uniformly defended Waters, are working to keep their caucus together and are expected to resolve the issue by the time the House votes Tuesday, intent on presenting a largely united front against the GOP attacks…

“Even several Democrats who are personally uncomfortable with Waters’ rhetoric said they would refuse to reprimand her while letting Republicans such as Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) go unpunished for his fire-breathing speech during a Jan. 6 rally hours before a pro-Donald Trump mob attacked the Capitol.”

According to Punchbowl, Pelosi and Hoyer were standing at the entrance of the House chamber for this vote, making sure any hesitant Dems who were tempted to flip knew that they were being watched closely. They had their eyes on three in particular, for obvious reasons:

If I hadn’t been watching the news closely this afternoon I would have assumed that Dems went ahead with the vote on McCarthy’s resolution only after the Chauvin verdict was in, once they knew that riots weren’t in the offing after all. That made it safer for the Minnesota members of the caucus to protect Waters after her nonsense about protesters getting “more confrontational.” But my assumption would have been wrong: The vote was held just minutes before the verdict was read. Pelosi kept her caucus together through sheer force of will — i.e. making sure they knew that crossing the aisle on this would have consequences.

Waters herself sounded smug initially after the vote but then either figured out that that was a bad look under the circumstances or was warned that it was because she returned to the press with a different tone:

Maybe Pelosi was waiting for the verdict to decide whether an alternate resolution was needed. If Chauvin walked free and rioters started breaking windows, she may have put some anti-violence statement on the floor tomorrow for centrist Dems to support. But since Chauvin went down and there’ll be no riots after all — I think — then today’s vote probably won’t haunt those Democrats. We’ll know next November if she’s right.

Here’s Democrat Hakeem Jeffries going on offense before the vote. If McCarthy had been able to win over a few Dems and censure Waters, it’s a cinch that Marjorie Taylor Greene would have then been censured by Democrats in a separate resolution. There’s no universe in which they control the House in an era of Trumpism on the right and the only person who gets formally censured is a Democratic elder.