A Congresswoman infuriated Donald Trump and sent shockwaves through a divided America when she called on the United States to “impeach the motherf***er”.
“Her comments were disgraceful,” said the President on Friday in response to the expletive-laden demand by Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib a day earlier. “I think she dishonoured herself and dishonoured her family.”
Liz Cheney, new head of the Republican conference, slammed the comment as displaying “a level of vitriol that’s not good for this country.”
But the newly elected Ms Tlaib did not back down, tweeting, “I will always speak truth to power”, with the hashtag #unapologeticallyMe.
Spokesman Denzel McCampbell said the 42-year-old, one of only two Muslim women in Congress, “was elected to shake up Washington” and would not stay silent.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she did not like the foul language but it was no worse than anything Mr Trump had said. The 78-year-old said she had a “generational” reaction to the swear word and would not use it, but would not censor her party colleague.
However, other remarks from the new speaker did not bode well for Ms Tlaib’s impeachment demand, which went viral on social media and is a dream shared by many Trump opponents.
Ms Pelosi told USA Today there would need to be bipartisan support for impeachment before she would pursue the option, in a heavy blow for those who had been hoping the Russia investigation would be the President’s downfall.
“If there’s to be grounds for impeachment of President Trump — and I’m not seeking those grounds — that would have to be so clearly bipartisan in terms of acceptance of it before I think we should go down any impeachment path,” said Ms Pelosi.
While not completely ruling it out, she warned it was a “divisive activity” that would require support from both parties. Ms Pelosi told an MSNBC town hall on Friday she would not proceed without more facts, despite allegations Mr Trump may have illegally used campaign funds to pay hush money to two woman who claimed they had affairs with him.
While many Democrats may favour impeachment, most are waiting to see if Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russia collusion during the 2016 presidential election will uncover more concrete offences.
Instead, they followed Ms Pelosi’s advice to focus on bread-and-butter issues such as healthcare and jobs during November’s midterm elections, for fear of alienating voters.
Mr Trump has remained defiant in the face of calls for his impeachment. On Friday, he tweeted, “How do you impeach a president who has won perhaps the greatest election of all time, done nothing wrong”, adding that he had had “most successful two years of any president.”
But the issue has the Democrats divided, with at least two ready to move forward with impeachment now they have the majority in the House of Representatives.
California’s Brad Sherman and Al Green of Texas introduced articles of impeachment against Mr Trump on Thursday, the first day of the new Congress. “Impeachment is on the table,” said Mr Sherman. “You can’t take it off the table.”
Other Democrats distanced themselves from Ms Tlaib’s remarks, with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer saying he did not think “comments like these particularly help.”
House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings said the comments were “inappropriate” and went against efforts to reclaim civility.
Jan Schakowsky of Illinois was more sympathetic. “I think some of our new members probably don’t realise that you are always on, that when you are a member of Congress, there’s always someone listening,” she said.
Virginia’s Gerry Connolly said the comments were simply “red meat” for Ms Tlaib’s supporters. “I think it’s a forgivable sin, an outburst of exuberance with her and her supporters, and I think we all need to move on,” he said. “It doesn’t reflect the caucus, and I’m sure upon reflection, she might choose other words to describe her feelings.”
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said impeachment would be a divisive, even traumatic, process that should only be done with Republican support. He and Ms Pelosi were in Congress when the Republican-led House impeached then-President Bill Clinton in 1998.
The GOP is delighted at the division over the issue among Democrats, which is set to continue to cause headaches for Ms Pelosi.
Mr Sherman and Mr Green forced votes to impeach Mr Trump in 2017 and 2018, but the Republican House blocked those resolutions twice, with the help of many Democrats who said the effort was premature.
Even if the House approves articles of impeachment — very unlikely at present — a two-thirds-majority vote to convict Mr Trump in the Republican-led Senate and remove him from office looks impossible.
Their only real hope is new revelations or a drop in the President’s approval ratings.