Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader, moved on Tuesday afternoon to force a vote to censure Democratic Representative Maxine Waters for saying that racial justice protesters should “get more confrontational” if the Derek Chauvin jury doesn’t return a guilty verdict.
Mr. McCarthy, a California Republican, announced on Monday evening that he would move to rebuke Ms. Waters, the chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee and a frequent target of rage from the right, for comments she made to racial justice protesters in Brooklyn Center, Minn., over the weekend.
Asked what protesters should do if no guilty verdict was reached in the murder trial of Mr. Chauvin for killing George Floyd, Ms. Waters said: “We’ve got to stay on the street, and we’ve got to get more active. We’ve got to get more confrontational; we’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.”
Ms. Waters later said she had been referring to civil rights-style demonstrations, which used tactics of civil disobedience, and Democratic leaders have stood behind her. Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California told reporters on Monday that Ms. Waters had no reason to apologize for her remarks.
But Republicans led by Mr. McCarthy have accused Ms. Waters of inciting violence, and sought to use her comments to portray all Democrats as anti-police extremists. By forcing a vote on the matter, they were looking to put politically vulnerable Democrats in a tough spot, daring them to vote against condemning what the Republicans characterized as radical statements.
Mr. McCarthy’s effort was particularly striking after he declined earlier this year to take any action against Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia Republican who had in the past endorsed assassinating Speaker Nancy Pelosi and referred to Jan. 6 as a “1776 moment.”
Democrats moved to kill Mr. McCarthy’s measure, which party leaders condemned as hypocritical, given that the Republican leader has not condemned the inflammatory rhetoric used by colleagues in his party around the riot.
“Clean up your mess, Kevin,” Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York and the No. 4 House Democrat, said at a news conference. “Sit this one out. You’ve got no credibility.”
Given Democrats’ thin margin of control, they cannot afford to lose many members of their party — as few as two — on their bid to stop Mr. McCarthy from forcing a vote on the censure resolution and to defeat it if a vote is called.
The House rarely moves to censure lawmakers. Steve King, the former Republican congressman from Iowa, for example, was never censured for a litany of racist comments he made while in office, including claiming that nonwhite groups hadn’t contributed as much as whites to civilization and that “mixing cultures will not lead to a higher quality of life but a lower one.”
Former congressman Charlie Rangel, a Democrat from New York, was the last House lawmaker to be censured in 2010 for a litany of financial corruption transgressions.
The situation was reminiscent of the one Mr. McCarthy faced when Democrats pressured him to punish Ms. Greene for her past comments. Democrats moved unilaterally to strip the Georgia Republican of her seats in a move without precedent, citing the Republican leader’s unwillingness to do so — an argument that Mr. McCarthy parroted on Monday.
“Speaker Pelosi is ignoring Waters’ behavior,” Mr. McCarthy wrote on Twitter. “That’s why I am introducing a resolution to censure Rep. Waters for these dangerous comments.”