The Democratic-led House responded to Donald Trump’s sustained attacks on four female Democratic lawmakers by taking the extraordinary step of rebuking the president for racism.
The resolution — backed Tuesday by all 235 Democrats, four Republicans and one independent — accused the president of having “legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color,” a serious accusation that sharply draws the battle lines going into the 2020 elections.
Trump had egged Democrats on, issuing his tweets and incendiary remarks for three straight days. “It’s my opinion they hate our country,” he said Tuesday during a cabinet meeting at the White House, speaking of the quartet that includes Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
For each side, the moment played to their party’s base. Democrats, under pressure to begin impeachment proceedings for a polarizing president, took a strong, but symbolic, swipe at Trump.
Republicans and Trump, who decried Tuesday night’s House vote as partisan politics, tried to tie all Democrats to the progressive — and at times controversial — image of Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, all women of color.
Relations between the White House and Congress have tumbled to a new low, just as the clock is ticking on important negotiations on the debt ceiling, government spending and trade. The conflict risks not only coloring the rest of this Congress, but also setting a fraught tone for 2020 campaigns when Trump and every member of the House will be up for re-election.
‘Fallen So Far’
The volley of personal attacks is comfortable ground for a president who mercilessly taunts those who turn against him and thrives with a political foil. Since his initial tweets Sunday falsely claiming that a group of progressive congresswomen came from other countries, Trump has doubled down on Twitter and other forums.
“If you do not call out racism at the level of the White House, then you are complicit in many respects with racism’s pervasiveness throughout the country,” said Representative Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat.
Representative Dan Kildee, a Democrat from Michigan said “this represents a sad moment where we’ve fallen so far in this country that the president can make such comments.”
Some Republicans downplayed the significance of the resolution as barely a blip in the vitriol swirling around U.S. politics.
“It won’t be remembered at all,” said Representative Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican. “This is Donald Trump’s America.”
Before the Tuesday vote, House Republican leaders objected to comments from Speaker Nancy Pelosi that violated House precedent prohibiting a member from calling the president racist or saying his statements were racist. But the Democratic-controlled chamber voted 232-190 against striking her remarks from the record, and the speaker told reporters she stood by her statements.
“She refused to take her words back, even though knowing that she broke the decorum of this House,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday. “I think that decorum matters. I think the rules matter.”
Other Republicans similarly argued it’s the first time a speaker’s words have been ruled out of order only to see the majority vote to include them in the official record. Most conceded, however, that’s a twist that few people outside of historians will recall
Trump praised the loyalty of Republicans who stood with him against the resolution, including those who have defended his remarks. Late Tuesday night he tweeted, “So great to see how unified the Republican Party was on today’s vote concerning statements I made about four Democrat Congresswomen.”
Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, one of Trump’s top congressional allies, predicts the president will remember it all as just latest in a string of attacks against him.
“I think he’ll see it for what it is a political act by a majority that has conducted a number of political acts over the first seven months, from faux hearings to contempt to resolutions on the House floor,” said Meadows. “The majority can’t accomplish anything legislatively so they are trying to accomplish things politically.”
Earlier Tuesday, Pelosi urged her party to stand with the freshmen Democrats she described as “our sisters,” according to an aide in the closed meeting, even though these very congresswomen have been among the speaker’s most outspoken critics in recent weeks. As Pelosi was struggling to mend fissures in her party, Trump’s Twitter attacks could help the speaker remind her caucus that they are stronger when they are unified.
“I think the longer that he does things like that, the easier it is for her to bring the caucus together on our main priorities,” said Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois.
Ocasio-Cortez, in her own tweet Tuesday responding to Trump’s further defense of his comments, reminded the president that she was born in his hometown of New York City.
Some Democrats, including Steve Cohen of Tennessee, complained that Pelosi and party leaders have been pulling their punches by not pursuing impeachment of Trump — and that they appeared doing so again on Tuesday by not bringing a formal censure resolution to the House floor. They said that would send a stronger message because the House has only rarely taken such action against a sitting president.
But following the vote, Cohen said Congress accomplished something it had to do.
“President Trump’s recent tweets scapegoat immigrants, demean people of color, and give credence to white supremacist and nativist ideologies,” Cohen said. “We must confront this racism and condemn it. And that is exactly what we did.”
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