Rep. Maxine Waters called on her supporters to publicly confront and harass members of the Trump administration in response to the “zero tolerance” policy that led to the separation of families at the border.
The California Democrat and vehement critic of President Donald Trump made the comments on Saturday, first at a rally in Los Angeles and later in a television interview. The comments, which come after several Trump administration officials have been recently protested at restaurants, have raised fresh questions about the state of American political discourse and were seized on by Trump for political gain.
“Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. And 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. We’ve got to get the children connected to their parents,” Waters said at the Wilshire Federal Building, according to video of the event.
“We don’t know what damage has been done to these children. All that we know is they’re in cages. They’re in prisons. They’re in jails. I don’t care what they call it, that’s where they are and Mr. President, we will see you every day, every hour of the day, everywhere that we are to let you know you cannot get away with this,” she added.
Waters appeared on MSNBC later in the day to double down on her remarks, saying she has “no sympathy” for members of the Trump administration.
“The people are going to turn on them. They’re going to protest. They’re going to absolutely harass them until they decide that they’re going to tell the President, ‘No, I can’t hang with you.’”
CNN reached out to Waters’ office on Monday morning and did not immediately receive a response.
Trump misconstrued Waters’ comments when he weighed in Monday afternoon.
“Congresswoman Maxine Waters, an extraordinarily low IQ person, has become, together with Nancy Pelosi, the Face of the Democrat Party. She has just called for harm to supporters, of which there are many, of the Make America Great Again movement. Be careful what you wish for Max!”
Waters, however, did not call for physical harm to the officials or harassment against Trump’s supporters.
Her comments were criticized by Republicans, though some Democrats were reluctant to take on Waters, a popular figure among progressives and a longtime member of Congress.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Fox News Monday the remarks were “very dangerous” and called upon Waters to issue a public apology. Sen. Jeff Flake, a retiring Arizona Republican who has repeatedly criticized Trump, tweeted, “Left or right, nobody deserves this kind of treatment.”
Meghan McCain, the daughter of Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, called Waters’ comments “absolutely insane” and “extremely dangerous.” McCain, who is also the daughter-in-law of Douglas Domenech, the current Assistant United States Secretary of the Interior for Insular Areas, asked on Twitter, “does this mean when we go out to dinner we should be ambushed?!?”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi referred to Waters’ comments as “unacceptable” but blamed Trump’s “daily lack of civility” for provoking responses such as that of Waters.
“In the crucial months ahead, we must strive to make America beautiful again. Trump’s daily lack of civility has provoked responses that are predictable but unacceptable. As we go forward, we must conduct elections in a way that achieves unity from sea to shining sea,” Pelosi tweeted, linking out to a story about the remarks.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer gently disagreed with Waters’ comments.
“The American people have the right to speak their mind, and I agree that they ought to express their deep frustration with the Trump Administration’s policies,” the Maryland Democrat said in a statement, adding, “We can do so while maintaining respect, notwithstanding President Trump’s lack of civility. We should rise above his hatefulness.”
Asked about Waters’ comments on CNN’s “New Day” Monday, Rep. Adriano Espaillat of New York would not criticize his fellow Democrat.
“To get sidetracked into these debates about whether or not somebody was welcome at a restaurant takes our eyes off of what’s going on in America today,” Espaillat said, later adding, “Maxine Waters is entitled to her opinion and I respect that.”
CNN’s Daniella Diaz and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.