Trump shocks, earns GOP rebukes with Dingell remarks
House Republicans on Thursday rebuked President Trump’s attacks on the late Democratic Rep. John Dingell (Mich.) and his widow, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), with several GOP lawmakers calling the remarks inappropriate and urging Trump to apologize.
“It’s extraordinarily inappropriate,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a former member of GOP leadership who has served with both John and Debbie Dingell, told The Hill.
“Anyone who served with John Dingell respected him, knew he was a very serious legislator and that he represented the House of Representatives with the highest personal and professional integrity.”
During a rally in Michigan on Wednesday night, Trump took aim at the family following Debbie Dingell’s votes in favor of two articles of impeachment, suggesting the former dean of the House was “looking up” from hell after noting he lowered flags to half-staff in the wake of his death.
“She calls me up. ‘It’s the nicest thing that’s ever happened. Thank you so much. John should be so thrilled. He’s looking down. He’d be so thrilled,” Trump said. “’Thank you so much, sir.’ I said, ‘That’s OK, don’t worry about it.’ Maybe he’s looking up. I don’t know.”
The criticism of Trump was especially sharp from fellow members of Dingell’s Michigan delegation. Reps. Fred Upton and retiring Rep. Paul Mitchell, both Michigan Republicans, called on Trump to apologize to Dingell.
“I’ve always looked up to John Dingell — my good friend and a great Michigan legend. There was no need to ‘dis’ him in a crass political way. Most unfortunate and an apology is due,” Upton tweeted following the rally.
Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) said Trump should refrain from casting judgment on his critics and praised Dingell’s character, noting that while they may have conflicting views at times, she doesn’t believe it’s appropriate to attempt to smear a deceased member’s legacy.
“I think it’s really sad. It’s a really, really terrible thing to say. It’s Christmas, to make jokes about where people are spending eternity — you must be really sure about where you’re spending your eternity, right? It’s terrible,” she told The Hill on Thursday.
“Debbie and I don’t agree on everything, but she’s an awesome lady and she doesn’t deserve to have her husband’s legacy turned into a political talking point, a political joke. It’s terrible.”
Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) said he hopes Trump takes the criticisms of his comments and uses it as an opportunity to reevaluate his discourse.
“I was with Debbie, after the vote last night and she was obviously quite upset and, you know, I can, I can personally attest, in my humble opinion, knowing John Dingell and knowing Debbie Dingell, and they’re honorable men and women,” he told The Hill.
“He’s resting well in heaven. And, you know, it’s something I’m disappointed in, that type of commentary and, hopefully, the president and others will learn from it that this rhetoric has to come to an end.”
Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) said while she never served with John Dingell, she respects his service to the country, telling The Hill she was found the attacks “disappointing.”
“Debbie is a friend, I never served with John Dingell, but obviously his contributions to our country were so significant in so many ways from being a veteran to serving here so long, so I, of course, was just disappointed,” she said.
And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) referred to both Dingells as friends, telling reporters at a press conference Thursday that he found John Dingell to be “a very strong individual, a very bright individual, and I think he made a great contribution to America.”
Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) said he isn’t in favor of the language used, adding that the stress of impeachment could have been a factor in the president’s remarks.
“I didn’t hear them until this morning and you know, it’s not something I would have said. I’m sure he was stressed at the moment, I mean he’s having a rally while he’s being impeached,” he said. “Yes, there are some things that should be left unsaid.”
Some retiring GOP lawmakers did not believe that Trump would level such an attack, even though he said it.
“I know you wouldn’t mischaracterize it, but I find it difficult to accept that characterization,” retiring Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) told The Hill. “I’ll have to look at that.”
Debbie Dingell told reporters Thursday morning that the outpouring of support has come from friends on both sides of the aisle.
Friends she has working in the Trump White House reached out to her, though she declined to name any of them, and roughly 20 Republicans lined up on the House floor to offer their support, including House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and conservative Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas).
Some Republicans apologized for the president’s behavior, she said. Dingell told them they had no reason to apologize because they didn’t utter those words.
“Some of the Republicans said this to me today, that in some ways John’s still up there, because what could have been a really tough day on the floor [after impeachment] brought people together as a community because people are really supporting me, giving me hugs,” Dingell said.
“I think that sometimes we forget that, one, the people in this House are human with all the emotions that other people have and, two, we do care about each other.”
Trump’s remarks come at an especially difficult time for Dingell, she said. These are the first holidays she will be spending without her late husband, and her brother-in-law, John Dingell’s brother, is currently in hospice care.
John Dingell, who held the title dean of the House because he was the longest-serving lawmaker, died Feb. 7 at age 92. Debbie Dingell said she was surprised by Trump’s remarks because he personally called her to offer condolences after John Dingell’s passing.
But Dingell’s decision to fundraise off of Trump’s attacks also have raised some eyebrows. In an email to supporters, the Dingell campaign slammed Trump for “insulting the legacy of her husband.”
“We urgently need 500 supporters to step up right now and donate as a way of saying: President Trump, you are not going to get away with bullying and insulting our congresswoman,” the email said.
Democrats were livid at Trump’s attacks. In a scathing tweet, House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) called Trump “not only a criminal, he is impulsively cruel and truly rotten to the core.”
“Hell will be too good for him,” Yarmuth said.
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), a close friend to both Dingells, ripped the president’s comments as “absolutely despicable.”
“He is the unique combination of ignorance and evil that I have never seen before. What he said is just pathetic,” Kildee told The Hill.
“It has nothing to do with the impeachment vote yesterday. But these Republicans who are wrapping their arms around him like he’s the Second Coming are going to have to have a conversation with their conscience about whether they really want to embrace and express all this love and fealty to a guy who’s willing to make that kind of a statement.”