House Democrats on Tuesday killed a Republican-led effort to censure Representative Maxine Waters for suggesting that racial justice protesters should “get more confrontational” if the Derek Chauvin jury did not return a guilty verdict.
Democrats stayed united in a 216-210 vote to quash a resolution offered by Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader, to formally rebuke Ms. Waters, the chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee and a frequent target of rage from the right, for comments she made over the weekend at a demonstration in Brooklyn Center, Minn. Ms. Waters was at a rally after the killing of Daunte Wright, a Black man, by a white police officer.
The House vote unfolded just after the jury announced it had reached a verdict in the murder trial of Mr. Chauvin, accused of killing George Floyd during an arrest last May.
Asked on Saturday what protesters should do if Mr. Chauvin were acquitted, Ms. Waters said: “We’ve got to stay on the street, and we’ve got to get more active. We’ve got to get more confrontational; we’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.”
Ms. Waters later said she had been referring to civil rights-era demonstrations, which used tactics of civil disobedience, and Democratic leaders have stood behind her. Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California told reporters on Monday that Ms. Waters had no reason to apologize for her remarks.
But Republicans led by Mr. McCarthy have accused Ms. Waters of inciting violence, and sought to weaponize her comments against other Democrats, offering them as proof that members of the party are anti-police. By forcing a vote on the matter, he sought to put politically vulnerable Democrats in a tough spot, daring them to vote against condemning what the Republicans characterized as radical statements.
“Chairwoman Waters’ actions are beneath the dignity of this institution,” Mr. McCarthy wrote on Twitter. “They raised the potential for violence, directed lawlessness, and may have interfered with a coequal branch of government.”
His resolution cited at length comments made on Monday by Peter A. Cahill, the judge presiding over Mr. Chauvin’s case, who said that Ms. Waters’ comments may have given the defense an opening to overturn the trial on appeal. Judge Cahill said he wished “elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law.”
Democrats moved to kill Mr. McCarthy’s measure, which party leaders condemned as hypocritical, given that the Republican leader has not condemned the inflammatory rhetoric used by colleagues in his party around the Jan. 6 riot.
Mr. McCarthy declined earlier this year to take any action against Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia Republican who had in the past endorsed assassinating Speaker Nancy Pelosi and referred to Jan. 6 as a “1776 moment.”
“Clean up your mess, Kevin,” Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York and the No. 4 House Democrat, said at a news conference. “Sit this one out. You’ve got no credibility.”
The House rarely moves to censure lawmakers. Steve King, the former Republican congressman from Iowa, for example, was never censured for a litany of racist comments he made while in office, including claiming that nonwhite groups hadn’t contributed as much as whites to civilization and that “mixing cultures will not lead to a higher quality of life but a lower one.”
Former congressman Charlie Rangel, a Democrat from New York, was the last House lawmaker to be censured in 2010 for a litany of financial corruption transgressions.
The situation was reminiscent of the one Mr. McCarthy faced when Democrats pressured him to punish Ms. Greene for her past comments. Democrats moved unilaterally to strip the Georgia Republican of her seats in a move without precedent, citing the Republican leader’s unwillingness to do so — an argument that Mr. McCarthy parroted on Monday.
“Speaker Pelosi is ignoring Waters’ behavior,” Mr. McCarthy wrote on Twitter. “That’s why I am introducing a resolution to censure Rep. Waters for these dangerous comments.”