Members of the Congressional Black Caucus huddled together to hear the Chauvin verdict, replacing a tense moment for the caucus with sighs of relief, and for some jubilation.
"Someone said it better than me: I'm not celebrating, I'm relieved," Waters said after the jury announced its decision.
Even several Democrats who are personally uncomfortable with Waters’ rhetoric said they would refuse to reprimand her while letting Republicans such as Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) go unpunished for his provocative speech during a Jan. 6 rally hours before a pro-Donald Trump mob attacked the Capitol.
Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), among several Democrats who considered voting to censure her colleague, said she was "deeply concerned about [Waters'] word choice" but ultimately did not think it compared to the conduct of some of her GOP colleagues in recent weeks.
For those Democrats wary of Waters’ remarks, censuring their own colleague while ignoring what’s been said by their GOP counterparts — several of whom Democrats have accused of helping to incite the Capitol riot — would smack of hypocrisy. Then there's first-term Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who has a long history of promoting extremist rhetoric online and was booted off her House committees for endorsing violence against Pelosi.
"I had to weigh it long and hard because of the votes we’ve taken earlier this year," Wild said, referring to the House votes to strip Greene off her committees. "I don't think it rises to that level. But it was not an easy vote."
Adding to complications on the resolution, some lawmakers were concerned that punishing Waters — or any member, for that matter — could lead to the weaponization of similar resolutions down the line. Such votes are relatively uncommon in the House, and both parties are typically reluctant to punish their own members on the floor.
In recent years, the House has voted on measures to rebuke Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and former Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), for instance, but only after intense pressure from both sides. Republicans had planned to use Tuesday’s censure vote to tie vulnerable Democrats to Waters, long a liberal bogeywoman for the GOP.
For many members, the debate over whether to punish Waters, a veteran member of the Congressional Black Caucus, reopened a painful schism over how Congress can proceed to normal business — and relationships — after Jan. 6. The GOP’s censure push quickly turned into a moment of judgment for several other lawmakers who have courted controversy with their conduct since the fraught 2020 election concluded.
“I think it’s a totally phony effort to distract from what the Republicans know has been the rhetoric of so many of their members, which has aided and abetted and condoned violent activity,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. The Maryland Democrat fiercely defended Waters hours after the judge in the Chauvin trial stunned many in Washington, D.C., by criticizing Waters' remarks from the bench.