Dem lawmakers seek distance from Waters call for confrontation

Democrats on Capitol Hill are mad as hell about President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' MORE’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, but they’re distancing themselves from Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersHillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Maxine Waters says her committee will call in Zuckerberg to testify about Libra MORE (D-Calif.) and her calls for public confrontations with administration officials.

While some liberal commentators and progressive activists have voiced support for Waters, few if any Democrats in Congress back her tactics.

“The worst. What has happened to our country,” one fellow House Democrat said of Waters’s call to action.

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“Each member has got to decide for his or herself. I wouldn’t do it,” said Rep. G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldDemocrats call for increased security after 'send her back' chants The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment MORE (D-N.C.), who like Waters is a past chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).

“That’s a tactic she has chosen. ... I have my own tactics,” added another CBC member, Rep. Frederica WilsonFrederica Patricia WilsonOvernight Defense: US shoots down Iranian drone | Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia | Trump mulls Turkey sanctions | Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract Pentagon contractor charged with threatening to kill Rep. Frederica Wilson: report Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment MORE (D-Fla.). “I speak on the floor. I speak at events as far as what our secretaries are doing to roll back regulations. Different people have different ways of expressing themselves, their displeasure and their disgust.”

The Waters flap shows the challenges for House Democrats this year as they try to navigate a tricky political landscape dominated by Trump. Liberals like Waters want to show solidarity with fervent Trump foes across the country who are infuriated by his administration and policies, and are struggling to find ways to voice their opposition.

But some in the party warn that these types of aggressive tactics — from impeachment to intimidation — could backfire on Democrats and turn off voters this fall as they seek to flip a net of 23 GOP-held seats and win back control of the House.

“I don’t think it’s productive. It’s probably not helpful” to Democrats, said Rep. Scott PetersScott H. PetersHillicon Valley: Facebook won't remove doctored Pelosi video | Trump denies knowledge of fake Pelosi videos | Controversy over new Assange charges | House Democrats seek bipartisan group on net neutrality House Democrats seek bipartisan working group on net neutrality WHIP LIST: The 87 House Democrats backing an impeachment inquiry MORE (D-Calif.), who faces a competitive race this fall.

“One thing people in my district and other swing districts want is for us to stop bickering, regardless of whose fault it is or where it started. I just think people are tired of it,” Peters continued. “To the extent Democrats can stay away from that, I think we are better served.”

The Waters remarks sprang from Democratic outrage to the family separations caused by the president’s zero tolerance border policy, which led to more than 2,000 children being separated from their parents after illegal border crossings.

But the media spotlight quickly shifted over the weekend after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was booted from a restaurant in Virginia and Waters told supporters at a Los Angeles rally to confront Trump Cabinet officials everywhere they go.

“If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they're not welcome anymore, anywhere,” Waters said at the rally.

Waters, 79, a Los Angeles liberal who has twice voted to impeach Trump, defended herself during a closed-door meeting with House Democrats on Tuesday.

According to sources in the room, she stood up and told her colleagues that her opinions were protected under the First Amendment and made clear that she does not believe in violence of any kind, despite what the president and other Republicans had alleged.

Later, she reiterated that same message to reporters while saying she wanted to steer the focus back to the separated families.

“You know what I've decided? I decided I'm just talking about the children. I want the children released, I want a plan. I want a plan for what this administration is going to do to connect these children,” a frustrated Waters told a gaggle of reporters just off the House floor. “I'm not following all this stuff, because I know what I said. If everybody reads what I said, they know there's no violence.”

Asked if her comments could be a drag on Democrats in the midterms, she replied: “I don't think. I don't know. You ask them.”

Trump and other Republicans have pounced on the lawmaker’s remarks.

The president tweeted Monday that Waters, whom he described as “an extraordinarily low IQ person” had joined with Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump telling aides to look at potential spending cuts if he wins reelection: report Budget talks between White House, Pelosi spill into weekend Trump says he won't watch Mueller testimony MORE (D-Calif.) in becoming the “Face of the Democratic Party.”

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump quietly rolled back programs to detect, combat weapons of mass destruction: report Ocasio-Cortez top aide emerges as lightning rod amid Democratic feud Juan Williams: GOP in a panic over Mueller MORE (R-Wis.) called on Waters to apologize, declaring at his news conference Tuesday “there is no place for this.”

Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseThe Memo: Fears of violence grow amid Trump race storm Democrats call for increased security after 'send her back' chants Democratic strategist on Trump tweets: 'He's feeding this fear and hate' MORE (R-La.), who barely survived a shooting at a congressional baseball practice a year ago, decried incivility permeating politics today — while making no mention of Trump’s own calls for violence against protesters at his 2016 campaign rallies.

“Nobody should be inciting harassment or violence of any sort just because we disagree with each other on issues,” Scalise said.

To win back the House in November, senior Democrats suggested they need to focus on driving turnout, not intimidating Trump allies.

“Continuing to mobilize, holding town halls, knocking on doors, encouraging people to vote, that’s what we need to be doing,” Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), chairman of the House Democrats’ campaign operation, told The Hill. “We can continue to hold this administration accountable in everything that we do every day, but do it in a way where we’re not stooping down to the level of what Republicans are doing.”

A day after Democratic congressional leaders had sought to stomp out the controversy, other Democrats said their party has to keep its eye on the prize.

“I understand the frustration and the anger she was expressing, and I share a lot of that. I wouldn’t have done it, but I don’t criticize her for doing it,” Rep. John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthMcConnell challenger faces tougher path after rocky launch The House Democrats who voted to kill impeachment effort House votes to kill impeachment effort against Trump MORE (D-Ky.), who has served with Waters for the past decade, told The Hill.

“What will change something is the election, changing the control of the Congress. Yelling at somebody is not going to change anything, but elections will,” he said.

Sylvan Lane contributed.