WASHINGTON – Comments last weekend by Democratic U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters at a Twin Cities protest are deeply dividing Minnesota's political delegation in Washington as Republicans unsuccessfully sought to censure the California lawmaker.
As the nation waited for the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial Tuesday, House Democrats, including four from Minnesota, blocked the GOP's resolution censuring Waters for urging protesters "to get more confrontational" if the jury acquitted the former police officer.
Minnesota's four GOP House members pushed for Waters to be censured, saying in a letter that "these comments … are unacceptable, divisive and can only be viewed as a means to incite further violence and destruction."
Waters appeared in Brooklyn Center amid protests over the police killing of Daunte Wright. Video showed the congresswoman speaking to the crowd, before moving aside and taking some questions. Republicans seized on those answers to build their censure effort, and the drive has been a focus of the GOP in Washington during the week.
"Every member of Congress must ensure their actions encourage calm and understanding during these contentious times," Minnesota Republican Rep. Tom Emmer said in a statement.
Several Democrats rejected the argument, saying that many of the same Republicans criticizing Waters had a role in inciting the violent and deadly insurrection in Washington earlier this year.
"I firmly disagree with the notion that Congress would censure an advocate for civil rights before they would censure those members who deliberately lied about an election and incited the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection," Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips said in a statement.
He also described himself as "disappointed" with what Waters said in Minnesota, but emphasized "as a Black woman and a leader in the Black community, her lived experience is different than mine and many others expressing outrage over her remarks."
In interviews over the following days, Waters defended her statements, telling MSNBC "I am nonviolent," when discussing confrontation.
"Chairwoman Maxine Waters was responding to violence against our community and said nothing beyond what countless senators, members of Congress, governors and even presidents have said," said Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar in a statement. "Let's not fall for Republicans' bad faith faux outrage."
On Monday, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill denied a motion for a mistrial hinged in part to what Waters said. But Cahill did note to the defense that "congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned."
Shortly before the jury found Chauvin guilty of murder and manslaughter charges, the House voted 216 to 210 along party lines to table a resolution from Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that would have censured Waters.
"I think the Democrats have to go home and answer for their vote yesterday," McCarthy told "Fox & Friends" on Wednesday. "It was an easy vote to have censure."
That argument was dismissed by Democrats like U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, who said in a statement that "the Republican resolution was a political game."
All four Democrats in Minnesota's House delegation voted for tabling the GOP-led effort, while the four Republicans voted against.
Rep. Angie Craig, a Democrat, said in a statement that while she disagreed with Waters' rhetoric, "it would be hypocritical of Congress to formally rebuke one member — while allowing the past inciteful rhetoric of other members like Mo Brooks, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert in this Congress to go unchallenged."
The political disagreement over Waters may only add to the difficulties ahead in Congress on the issue of police reform. Democrats have continued to call for major changes in the aftermath of Chauvin's conviction. Potential policing reforms have been a divisive issue between the two parties, yet Democrats will need the support of some Senate Republicans to get a reform measure to President Joe Biden's desk.