Dem lawmakers seek distance from Waters call for confrontation

Democrats on Capitol Hill are mad as hell about President TrumpDonald John TrumpFed saw risks to US economy fading before coronavirus spread quickened Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Britain announces immigration policy barring unskilled migrants MORE’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, but they’re distancing themselves from Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersMaxine Waters blasts Trump as 'mafia boss' over Stone case Democrats highlight lack of diversity at major banks in new report Fed chief issues stark warning to Congress on deficits 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 ButterfieldHouse poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate Democrat makes case for impeachment in Spanish during House floor debate Democrats likely to gain seats under new North Carolina maps 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 WilsonDemocrats tear into Trump's speech: It was a 'MAGA rally' Clinton advises checking your voter registration during Trump's State of the Union Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley to boycott State of the Union 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. PetersVulnerable Democrats fret over surging Sanders Bloomberg lands Utah's lone Democratic rep as sixth congressional endorsement Fifth congressional Democrat backs Bloomberg in 2020 race 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 PelosiDon't let 'welfare for all' advocates derail administration's food stamp program reforms Hillicon Valley: Officials worry about Nevada caucus technology after Iowa | Pelosi joins pressure campaign on Huawei | Workers at Kickstarter vote to unionize | Bezos launches B climate initiative Pelosi joins pressure campaign on Huawei MORE (D-Calif.) in becoming the “Face of the Democratic Party.”

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Paul Ryan says Biden likely won't get Democratic nomination Judd Gregg: Honey, I Shrunk The Party 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 ScaliseBottom line Pelosi's staff huddles with aides in both parties on 'surprise' medical billing Republicans sense momentum after impeachment win 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 YarmuthBudget hawks frustrated by 2020 politics in entitlement reform fight On The Money: Deficit spikes 25 percent through January | Mnuchin declines to say why Trump pulled Treasury nominee who oversaw Roger Stone case | Lawmakers trade insults over Trump budget cuts Lawmakers trade insults over Trump budget cuts 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.