WASHINGTON — Republicans said it was “inappropriate” for President Donald Trump to attack a beloved deceased lawmaker and his widow — also a member of Congress — by implying he was looking up at her from hell during a campaign rally Wednesday night.
During the rally in Michigan, the president called Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell “a real beauty,” but then went on to attack Dingell and her late husband, former representative John Dingell, after she joined House Democrats in voting to impeachment earlier that evening. Both Dingells held the same seat representing Michigan in Congress. Trump described a call he had with Debbie Dingell after her husband died, in which she thanked him for lowering the flags to half-mast. Trump has brought this up before and attacked Debbie Dingell for supporting his impeachment after thanking him for helping with her husband’s funeral. But Trump went further Wednesday night, implying the late lawmaker is in hell.
"'John would be so thrilled. He's looking down, he'd be so thrilled. Thank you so much, sir,'" Trump said, doing an impersonation of Debbie Dingell on the call. "I said, 'That's OK, don't worry about it.’ Maybe he's looking up, I don't know."
The crowd reacted with a mixture of laughter and disapproval. The Democrat was a legend in Michigan; the road to the Detroit Airport is named for him.
Rep. Debbie Dingell responded to the president’s comments on Twitter last night as well, saying the comments were “hurtful.”
“Mr. President, let’s set politics aside,” she wrote. “My husband earned all his accolades after a lifetime of service. I’m preparing for the first holiday season without the man I love. You brought me down in a way you can never imagine and your hurtful words just made my healing much harder.”
Some of Trump’s biggest supporters thought his comments were inappropriate as well.
“Yeah, that was inappropriate,” Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko told BuzzFeed News Thursday morning. “I mean, you know, people say things that sometimes that perhaps they regret, and I hope he regrets that one. I, as you know, I support President Trump. But that doesn't mean I agree with everything but the single thing he says and so that one was inappropriate.”
Retiring Rep. Francis Mooney said the same just before walking on the House floor on Thursday.
“I don’t think it was appropriate,” he told BuzzFeed News.
Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee called the comment “very unfortunate,” adding, “I wouldn’t endeavor to say anything like that.”
Some Republican members of Congress said they hadn’t seen the rally, while others just refused to respond.
“I have no comment,” Reps. Greg Pence and Doug Lamborn said Thursday morning during a House floor vote.
“I haven’t seen the quote, I haven’t read the article, I haven’t seen the context, so it would probably be inappropriate for me to even make a comment on it,” Rep. Ross Spano said. Rep. Mike Conaway said “I don’t know what you’re talking about” when asked to comment.
The comments expectedly struck a chord with Democrats, especially House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who, when asked about the issue during her Thursday morning press briefing, paused for a few seconds and then responded, “Let us pray. Let us pray for the president.”
“The president clearly is insecure when it comes to statespersons,” Pelosi said, noting Trump’s attacks on the late senator John McCain as well. ”Now John Dingell. What the president misunderstands is that cruelty is not wit. Just because he gets a laugh for saying the cruel things that he says, doesn't mean he's funny. It's not funny at all. It's very sad,” she added.
Republican Rep. Fred Upton who also represents Michigan asked the president to apologize in a tweet Wednesday night.
“I’ve always looked up to John Dingell - my good friend and a great Michigan legend,” Upton wrote. “There was no need to 'dis' him in a crass political way. Most unfortunate and an apology is due.”
As Pelosi pointed out, this isn’t the first time the president has made negative remarks about dead legislators. During an Ohio rally earlier this year, Trump said he wasn’t a fan of John McCain: “Not my kind of guy, but some people like him and I think that’s great.”
Dingell was the longest-serving member of Congress and died at the age of 92 after serving 60 years in the House leading up to his retirement in 2015.