WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) — Freshman Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., dropped the mother of all f-bombs Thursday night at a reception hosted by the liberal group MoveOn.org when she issued a profanity-laced call to impeach President Donald Trump.
The video, that has since gone viral, has divided Democrats on the second day of the new Congress.
In the video, the first Palestinian-American in Congress encouraged supporters not to conform and to hold onto their roots and culture. "Because when you do, people love you and you win," she said. "And when your son looks at you and says, 'Mama, look. You won. Bullies don’t win.' And I said, 'Baby, they don't.' Because we’re gonna go in there and we’re gonna impeach the motherf-----."
Tlaib dodged reporters in the hallways of the Capitol but defended herself on Twitter, writing, "I will always speak truth to power. #unapologeticallyMe."
The new leadership of the Democratic majority in Congress has distanced themselves from Tlaib's remarks, both in style and substance. House Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., acknowledged there's "a lot of heated discussion" but told reporters Friday, "I don't think comments like these help."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi resisted criticizing Tlaib's language. "I'm not in the censorship business," the speaker said at an NBC News event. Pelosi has spent the last 24 to 48 hours outlining the Democratic agenda and has made it clear that impeachment is not on the list of priorities.
House Oversight chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said he wanted to "reclaim civility" and noted that Tlaib's comments "do not take us in the right direction." Cummings told reporters, "You cannot accomplish very much of anything unless you have civility and show respect for your colleagues."
But Rep. Tlaib is hardly a lone voice in the Democratic caucus calling for Trump's impeachment and some of her colleagues were quick to defend her choice of words. According to another congresswoman calling for impeachment, Tlaib's language is a reflection of the new standard of political discourse in the Trump era.
"I think that the president has given permission to folks to speak passionately about issues," Chair of the Finance Committee Rep. Maxine Waters of California, told Sinclair Broadcast Group. "Similar to the way he spoke about African countries when he called them [s-holes], similarly when he called the NFL 'SOBs.' He's opened up a new way of talking, a new way of addressing these issues in ways we never heard before."
Asked if it was incumbent on Democrats to tone down the harsh rhetoric used by President Trump, Waters responded, "No. I don't believe so." She said there should be more attention on the "vile" and "foul" language Trump has used, rather than what one member of Congress says.
"Everyone was elected to here to represent their constituents," she continued. "So they don't need to be chastised. They don't need to be told what to do by another member."
Waters has been calling for Trump's impeachment since 2017 and recently balked at leaders of her party who asked her to stop talking about it. The president has used Waters and others' calls for impeachment to gin up support from his base. He insulted the congresswoman as a "low IQ individual" and said she represented the new face of the Democratic Party.
Amid negotiations to end the nearly two-week government shutdown, Trump reacted to various calls for his impeachment, saying, "You can't impeach somebody that's doing a great job." The president called Tlaib's language "disgraceful" and said the congresswoman "dishonored herself" and her family.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that Democrats talk of impeachment is a sign of desperation. "The only reason they want to come after this president is because they know they can’t beat him,” Sanders told Fox News. "They can’t beat him when it comes to a policy debate and they’re not going to beat him when it comes to 2020."
Congressional Republicans were outraged and took the freshman congresswoman's remarks as an indication of the next two years under Democratic leadership.
"How do you work with anyone if this is what they really have planned?" asked House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. "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."
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and chairman of the House Freedom Caucus tweeted, "This kind of reckless, political headhunting is the exact opposite of what Americans want in Washington."
According to a recent Harvard CAPS/Harris poll, the majority of Americans support Congress taking some action against President Trump. Twenty percent said that Trump should be formally censured by Congress and 39 percent said he should be impeached and removed from office. Approximately 40 percent of respondents said no action should be taken.
Another poll found that impeachment was dead last in a list of 21 possible priorities for the new Congress, with only 38 percent of Americans deeming it an "extremely important" priority.
Other Democrats minimized talk of "the 'I' word" and Rashida Tlaib's remarks and downplayed their effect on the new Congress' agenda. "I think that's the comment of a new member in an excess of enthusiasm before an audience," Rep. Gerry Connelly, D-Va., told reporters. "I don't think it reflects how the new majority in the Congress is going to approach the subject of any investigation, including the possible impeachment [of the president]."
Still, impeachment has grabbed headlines after Tlaib's comments and her op-ed titled, "Time to Impeach Donald Trump," and after Brad Sherman, D-Calif., reintroduced articles of impeachment with co-sponsor Al Green, D-Texas.
Sherman explained that he reintroduced the articles of impeachment to prevent his 2017 impeachment bill from expiring. "What I did yesterday wasn't even a step forward, it was just a decision not to take a step backward," he told reporters.
He acknowledged the American people and their representatives in Congress are not yet ready for impeachment. Impeachment requires a majority vote by the House, which is possible under Democratic leadership, and two-thirds of the Senate to convict. "Are there 67 votes in the United States Senate to remove Donald Trump today? Obviously not," Sherman said.
But public opinion might change, he added, depending on what happens with the special counsel investigation. "If we see an understanding by the American people of how much harm he's doing and what crimes he's committed, then there's a chance to move forward," Sherman said.
The new chairmen of the House Oversight and House Judiciary Committees, Elijah Cummings and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., both said they will not discuss impeachment until the Special Counsel Robert Mueller concludes his investigation.
Rep. Nadler told CNN that it is "too early to talk about that intelligently. We have to follow the facts." On Thursday, Nadler reintroduced legislation to protect Mueller from being fired. In the last Congress, both Senate and House Republicans blocked a vote on the legislation, despite bipartisan support.
Nadler is also expected to hold a series of hearings looking into alleged wrongdoing by President Trump, including possible violations of the emoluments clause. Judiciary Committee member Steve Cohen said last month that oversight hearings on Trump's alleged emoluments violations would be "in essence, hearings on impeachment."
Another Judiciary Committee Democrat, Rep. Ted Lieu of California, emphasized restraint and waiting to see if the facts warrant impeachment. The constitutional standard for impeachment and conviction includes committing treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.
The power to impeach a president "is one of the gravest responsibilities of Congress," Lieu told Sinclair Broadcast Group. "It should never be our first option."
Speaker Pelosi, who also wrangled pro-impeachment Democrats during the Bush years, is also advocating a wait and see approach. Though she has avoided talk of impeachment, the speaker suggested this week that there's an "open discussion" about indicting a sitting president.
Democrats will continue to walk the careful line between oversight, supported by the public and overreach, or what the White House has referred to as "presidential harassment." Most members, particularly those in favor of impeachment, say they can do both.
When it comes to coarse language, Donald Trump and Rashida Tlaib are not the only politicians to be bleeped out.
In a not quite off-mic comment, former Vice President Joe Biden excitedly told President Barack Obama,"this is a big f---ing deal." The comments were broadcast live from a White House ceremony on the passage of health care law. And in a combative moment in the Senate chamber in 2004, former Vice President Dick Cheney told Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., "Go ---- yourself."