WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she “wouldn’t use” Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s salty comments about impeaching President Donald Trump, but she also downplayed the episode and noted it was “nothing worse than the President has said.”
Pelosi’s comments in an NBC News event Friday underscored how impeachment will continue to be a charged issue for House Democrats as they take control of Congress and weigh whether to pursue the matter — and one that could cause headaches for Pelosi.
“I probably have a generational reaction to it,” Pelosi told NBC News in reaction to Tlaib’s comments. “I’m not in the censorship business. I don’t like that language, I wouldn’t use that language, but I wouldn’t establish language standards for my colleagues.”
At a progressive event Thursday, Tlaib brought impeachment front and center when she said of Trump: “We’re going to impeach the motherf****r.”
The Michigan Democrat’s remark underscored the difficulty that Democratic leadership will have corralling its caucus on impeachment, as the calls to wait for special counsel Robert Mueller have gone unheeded among a faction of the party.
While Democratic leadership isn’t likely to consider impeachment until Mueller’s investigation is finished, the episode shows that they will face mounting pressure from rank-and-file members to act.
“I’m absolutely convinced that impeachment is not dead,” Rep. Al Green of Texas, a major impeachment backer, said when asked about Tlaib’s comments. “Impeachment is really about the country. It’s not about Democrats – it’s about democracy.”
Republicans seized on Tlaib’s remarks to criticize Democrats for playing politics with impeachment. At a news conference Friday, Trump said it was “disgraceful” and she had “dishonored her family.”
“We watched a new freshman stand up, use this language, get cheered by their base, and we’ve watched a brand new speaker say nothing to her,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said. “How do you work with anybody, if this is what they really have planned?”
Asked about Tlaib’s remarks, several Democrats said they were inappropriate.
“I think those kind of comments do not take us in the right direction,” said Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings of Maryland. “So, I would say that they are inappropriate but I don’t want them to be distracting from what is going on.”
Rep. Jim Costa, a California Democrat, said: “It’s inappropriate. We can have our differences but we set a higher standard.”
But others defended Tlaib. Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York told CNN impeachment was “an issue that she’s passionate about.”
“I certainly think it a valid question and it’s one that a lot of voters were interested in having in the run-up to the election,” Ocasio-Coretz said. “It’s a legitimate discussion to have.”
Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters, a frequent target of Trump’s ire, said of Tlaib comments: “I think what we need to do is have more attention on the President and the way that he speaks, the language that he uses.”
Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva noted there was “a lot of emotion around,” saying he didn’t want to get into the nature of Tlaib’s comments.
“The congresswoman has the power of speech is hers,” he said. “The fact of the matter is the talk about impeachment has a life of its own and that’s going to continue.”
Tlaib didn’t back down from her statement, tweeting Friday morning, “I will always speak truth to power.” Her communications director noted that Tlaib also wrote an op-ed Thursday laying out why she believed Trump should be impeached.
Pelosi hasn’t ruled out pursuing impeachment, but she’s urged her caucus to take a wait-for-Mueller approach. Still, Tlaib isn’t the only one trying to move forward on the matter. Rep. Brad Sherman of California introduced articles of impeachment on the first day of the new Congress Thursday.
Sherman said that her comments were “not something I would say,” though he was still pushing for impeachment.
“I think that the office of the presidency should be treated with respect,” he said. “And the thing we can do that most shows respect for the office is to not have someone there who has committed high crimes and misdemeanors on the one hand and is hurting the country on the other.”