House GOP leaders are struggling to rein in the increasingly open nativism within their conference and attempting to deflect from the controversy by training their ire against Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) tweeted over the weekend that the GOP is not the party of “nativist dog whistles” without directly referencing the draft policy platform for a proposed caucus that called for promoting “Anglo-Saxon political traditions” and infrastructure that reflects “European architecture.”

Days later, McCarthy is backing an effort to take action against Waters, the House Financial Services Committee chairwoman, for saying that “we’ve got to get more confrontational” and “we’ve got to stay on the street, and we’ve got to get more active” about addressing police brutality against Black people. 

McCarthy said Monday that he will introduce a resolution to censure Waters over what he called “dangerous comments.”

“This weekend in Minnesota, Maxine Waters broke the law by violating curfew and then incited violence,” McCarthy wrote on Twitter.

The Waters remarks were also criticized Monday by the judge in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who faces murder charges for the killing of George Floyd, whose death set off nationwide demonstrations last summer.

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill ruled that the remarks were not prejudicial, however, ruling against a defense motion for a mistrial. The jury began deliberations in Chauvin’s trial on Monday.

McCarthy first announced Sunday night that he would “bring action” this week against Waters hours after Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), one of the leaders of the planned “America First” caucus, said that she will introduce a resolution to expel Waters from Congress “for her continual incitement of violence.”

McCarthy’s indirect distancing from the America First caucus platform followed by his joining the push against Waters shows how he is trying to maintain a delicate balancing act to try to avoid outright open warfare in the GOP while attempting to keep the extremist fringe in check. 

McCarthy opposed removing Greene from her committee assignments in February in response to her past apparent endorsements of violence against prominent Democrats and embrace of conspiracy theories. He also opposed impeaching former President Trump for inciting the mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 despite initially stating that Trump “bears responsibility.”

McCarthy could force a procedural vote on his resolution to censure Waters, which would be tabled if all Democrats stick together behind her.

McCarthy forced a similar vote last month to remove Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) from the House Intelligence Committee over his past ties to a suspected Chinese spy, which the House rejected mostly along party lines with Democrats unified in opposition.

Multiple Republicans swiftly condemned the proposed platform for the America First caucus. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) described it as “hatefulness,” while Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said that anyone who becomes a member should be stripped of their committee assignments and kicked out of the House GOP conference. 

But at least two Republicans indicated some interest in the caucus: Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) — already under fire for allegations of sex trafficking and prostitution — declared he would become a member, and Rep. Louie Gohmert (Texas) said he was considering it.

Now, instead of engaging in open warfare among themselves over white supremacy, House Republicans are rallying behind holding Waters to account for a string of inflammatory statements, including saying in 2017 that she would “go and take Trump out tonight” and encouraging supporters in 2018 to harass Trump administration officials in public. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) defended Waters on Monday and said she shouldn’t apologize.

“Maxine talked about confrontation in the manner of the civil rights movement,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol. And when asked if she thinks Waters’s comments over the weekend incited violence, she said, “No, absolutely not.” 

Waters, a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, accused Republicans of trying to “send a message” to white supremacists by targeting her. 

“Republicans will jump on any word, any line and try to make it fit their message and their cause for denouncing us and denying us, basically calling us violent … any time they see an opportunity to seize on a word, so they do it and they send a message to all of the white supremacists, the KKK, the Oath Keepers, the [Proud] Boys and all of that, how this is a time for [Republicans] to raise money on [Democrats’] backs,” Waters said in an interview with The Grio published Monday. 

Waters further denied that she was encouraging violence. 

“I talk about confronting the justice system, confronting the policing that’s going on, I’m talking about speaking up. I’m talking about legislation. I’m talking about elected officials doing what needs to be done to control their budgets and to pass legislation,” she said.

Both Greene and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), another leader of the planned America First caucus, have since distanced themselves from the policy platform’s explicitly nativist language and said they didn’t write it. 

Greene said that it was a “staff level draft proposal from an outside group that I hadn’t read.”

But when asked by The Hill to clarify which outside group authored the proposal, a spokesman for Greene ignored the question and instead pointed to the remarks from Waters. 

Waters spoke over the weekend while tensions are high in Minneapolis amid the closing arguments in Chauvin’s murder trial.

Two members of the National Guard were injured early Sunday morning in a drive-by shooting when someone fired at a Minnesota National Guard and Minneapolis Police Department team providing neighborhood security. 

Additional protests have been fueled in recent days by the death of another Black man, Daunte Wright, at the hands of law enforcement just north of Minneapolis.

Against that racial backdrop, House Democrats are planning votes on bills this week to grant statehood to the District of Columbia — where African Americans make up nearly half the population — and to prevent another travel ban like the one enacted by Trump against several majority-Muslim countries. The House Judiciary Committee also advanced legislation last week to study whether Black Americans should receive reparations for slavery.

Former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that the GOP needs to strongly denounce the nativist fringe elements of the party and embrace the idea of America as “the world’s giant melting pot.”

“Listen, America is a land of immigration. We’ve been the world’s giant melting pot for 250 years. And we ought to celebrate the fact that we are this giant melting pot. And to see some members of Congress go off and start this America First Caucus is — it’s the silliest thing I’ve ever seen. And Republicans need to denounce it,” Boehner said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Updated at 6:16 p.m.

Tags Adam Kinzinger America First Caucus Boehner Derek Chauvin trial Donald Trump Eric Swalwell John Boehner Ken Buck Kevin McCarthy Louie Gohmert Marjorie Taylor Greene Matt Gaetz Maxine Waters Nancy Pelosi Nativism Paul Gosar
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