WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Maxine Waters doesn’t expect to pose for a photo with President Donald Trump anytime soon.
In fact, the California congresswoman plans to boycott any meeting, event, ceremony or public event with the president, at the White House or even in her home district of Los Angeles.
“I don’t see myself meeting with him, sitting down with him, believing anything he would say or even respecting anything he would say,” Waters said sternly to The Associated Press. “It would not be honest on my part to go to any ceremonies with him or to pretend I am having a decent conversation with him.”
And if Trump personally invited her to the White House for a conversation? “I wouldn’t go,” she said emphatically.
Waters has served in Congress for a quarter-century. Now she’s turned into the passionate voice of resistance against the Trump administration. The 78-year-old Democrat lays politeness aside when she talks about the new president. When told that this is not normal political dialogue, she shrugs.
“My spirit tells me I cannot be silent. I must address this so-called president, no matter where it takes me,” she said.
Waters is a favorite target for conservatives. Conservative commentator Armstrong Williams said he thought Waters’ heated rhetoric was “very sad, very disappointing, and just not the kind of legacy that she would want to be remembered by.”
Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly said earlier in the week that he had a hard time concentrating on a Waters speech because he was distracted by her “James Brown wig.” He apologized later in the day.
Waters tweeted: “I am a strong black woman. I cannot be intimidated, and I’m not going anywhere.”
Waters skipped Trump’s first address to Congress after calling him abnormal, “potentially dangerous for this country,” an all-around horrible bully who offends her and most of America with his runaway mouth and uncouth actions. Another day, she called Trump offensive, potentially dangerous, someone who may eventually warrant impeachment and a male chauvinist pig who bragged about groping women – all in one sitting.
The memes, the retweets and the pictures of her reactions have gotten her lot of traction with the younger crowd, said Rashad Robinson, executive director of online civil rights group Color of Change.
“In this moment of facing an authoritarian racist who tweets constantly, it feels nice to see someone on our side who isn’t afraid,” he said.
Waters says she is not saying outrageous things for attention, to build a legacy or perhaps aspire to higher office. “This is not sour grapes. This is not politics as usual,” Waters said. “You can’t make this up. This is who I am.”
Waters’ outspokenness certainly is nothing new. While serving in the California Assembly from 1977-91, Waters broke into the national scene by pushing her state to divest from South Africa because of its government-sanctioned system of racial apartheid. Her stand is still remembered fondly by black lawmakers in California, said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif.
“She is known historically to be at the forefront of resisting injustice, and so to me what’s happening now is consistent to her lifelong commitment to fighting for civil rights and against injustice,” Bass said.
Waters’ district includes portions of Los Angeles and surrounding cities, and she gained attention in Washington for bringing supplies to south central Los Angeles after the Rodney King riots and for passionately opposing the war in Iraq. A former Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman, Waters pushed to end the Cuban trade embargo and called for investigations into allegations that government intelligence agencies were behind the crack epidemic in Los Angeles. Waters was also critical when Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was deposed; he blamed his push from power on the United States.
Waters first entered politics as an aide to Los Angeles City Councilman Dave Cunningham and she’s been comfortably re-elected in her district even after the House Ethics Committee charged her with helping a bank connected to her husband. She was ultimately cleared.
“Far too often African-American female leaders are charged with being angry, but it is really seriousness and a commitment she is exuding,” said Nicole Lee, former president of advocacy group TransAfrica, who called herself a mentee of Waters.
When asked about Waters’ suggestions on impeachment earlier this year, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said despite “these little political stunts on the House side, the bottom line is I think, by and large, you see the support that the president’s receiving for his policies throughout the country.”
One of her most popular moments online is her reaction to a top-secret congressional briefing by FBI Director James Comey on accusations of Russian hacking during Trump’s campaign. An obviously angry Waters walked up to some microphones reporters had set up for departing attendees and glared at the cameras.
“Can I help you? What do you want?” she shot at reporters. When asked what Comey said, a frustrated Waters threw up her hands.
“It’s classified, and I can’t tell you anything. All I can tell you is the FBI director has no credibility,” Waters snarled, and walked away.
When asked about that day, Waters said she thinks her words are vibing with young activists because of her unvarnished honesty about what she’s feeling.
“We moan and groan all the time about a lack of involvement of young people,” she said. “But they have taught me a lot about what moves them. It seems like all they are looking for is some honesty and some truth and somebody that they can believe in.”
Jesse J. Holland covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press.
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