The White House on Thursday defended President Trump’s attack on the late veteran Democratic Rep. John Dingell, as members of Congress blasted the president for insulting another veteran lawmaker after his death.
Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress, died in February at age 92 after representing his House district outside Detroit for 59 years.
At a campaign rally in Dingell’s home state of Michigan Wednesday night, Trump suggested the late lawmaker, a devout Catholic, had been condemned to hell by saying he was “looking up” rather than “looking down” on those still living.
Debbie Dingell, who won her husband’s seat after he retired and voted for impeachment, lamented Trump’s cutting remarks and urged him “to set politics aside,” adding: “Your hurtful words just made my healing much harder.”
White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham on Thursday said Trump — whose rhetoric at the rally came as the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted to impeach him — “has been under attack.”
“As we all know, the president is a counter puncher,” Grisham told ABC News, defending the apparent act of revenge against a man who has been dead for 10 months.
“It was a very, very supportive and wild crowd, and he was just riffing on some of the things that had been happening the past few days.”
Trump’s remarks echoed his personal attacks on the late GOP Sen. John McCain, who died in 2018, and drew rebuke from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Both McCain and Dingell, two war veterans, were critical of Trump.
“The president is clearly insecure,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters at a news conference.
“John McCain, now John Dingell. What the president misunderstands is cruelty is not wit … It’s not funny at all. It’s very sad.”
“It was mean, cruel, disgusting, and I wish I could say it was surprising,” Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan told MSNBC as other Democrats defended Dingell on Twitter.
Debbie Dingell’s Republican counterpart, Rep. Fred Upton, also called her husband “a great Michigan legend” and said “an apology is due.”
Asked about Trump’s insult, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy declined to comment to reporters but praised John Dingell as a friend.
In television interviews on Thursday, Debbie Dingell vowed to focus on her constituents, telling CNN: “If he thinks he’s going to keep me from doing my job, I’m going to be right back at it.”
Asked if she wanted Trump to apologize, Dingell added: “I don’t want to politicize my husband … It is still something that I’m really grieving over. This Thanksgiving was really hard and Christmas is harder.”
Dingell served 59 years in the House before retiring in 2015 because, as he said to a Michigan business group at the time, he could no longer “live up to my own personal standard” for serving in Congress.
He served as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee for 16 years, where he pushed major legislation, including the breakup of telecommunications firm AT&T, cable deregulation, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act.
He also played an important role in passing the legislation leading to Medicare, the health insurance program for elderly Americans, in 1965, and the Affordable Care Act in 2010, popularly known as Obamacare.
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