President Donald Trump faced a social media backlash after an off-color joke suggesting the late Democratic Congressman John Dingell was in Hell.
Dingell, a WWII veteran who represented Michigan from 1955 to 2015, died in February aged 92. His wife Debbie Dingell fought and won his seat and now sits in Congress.
On Wednesday she voted to impeach Trump over his alleged Ukraine-related misconduct. Trump, who was holding a rally in Michigan’s Battle Creek, lashed out at Dingell.
Trump talked about an emotional call from Dingell to say thank you after he gave her husband what he described as “A plus” treatment upon his death, including the lowering of flags and offering the use of the Capitol Rotunda.
“She calls me up. ‘It’s the nicest thing that’s ever happened. Thank you so much. John would be so thrilled. He’s looking down, he’d be so thrilled. Thank you so much sir.’ I said that’s OK, don’t worry about it,” Trump said, relaying the call.
“Maybe he’s looking up, I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe. But let’s assume he’s looking down.”
The president then said he “won’t go into the conversation because it’s not fair to do that” before emphasizing the thankfulness of Dingell’s call and then highlighting that she voted to impeach.
Dingell responded on Twitter, describing the hurt Trump’s rally comments had caused her.
“Mr. President, let’s set politics aside. My husband earned all his accolades after a lifetime of service,” she tweeted.
“I’m preparing for the first holiday season without the man I love. You brought me down in a way you can never imagine and your hurtful words just made my healing much harder.”
“Standing with my friend @RepDebDingell tonight,” tweeted Rep. Elissa Slotkin, another Michigan Democrat.
“Mr. President, shame on you. Going after Rep. John Dingell, a WWII vet and devoted public servant who spent his life fighting for Michiganders, demeans you and your office.”
Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, said Dingell “was true a patriot and a sweet, sweet man.”
“When I would have lunch with him in the House Dining Room, he made sure to say nice things to every person working there. His staff adored him. He was everything Donald Trump is not,” Ornstein tweeted.
Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, tweeted that he “always looked up to John Dingell – my good friend and a great Michigan legend. There was no need to ‘dis’ him in a crass political way. Most unfortunate and an apology is due.”
Paul Rieckhoff, who served with the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan and who is now a prominent activist for veterans, also attacked Trump
“Congressman John Dingell served in the Army in WW2 and went to college under the GI Bill,” Rieckhoff tweeted. “And he’s just the latest veteran to be disgustingly disrespected by Trump—a man who knows nothing of honor, respect or service.”
Michigan State Senator Curtis Hertel, a Democrat, called the president’s comments “below human decency.”
“I don’t know what’s more sad; a President who attacks a deceased Congressman and his widow in their home state two weeks before Christmas or my friends on the other side of the aisle who will refuse to condemn it,” Hertel tweeted.
“This is not just below the presidency, it’s below basic human decency. The irony of this indecency is that John was one of the most decent people I ever knew.
“To be clear. John Dingell was a Veteran and a Statesman while President Trump is a Coward and blowhard. If you can’t tell what side you’re supposed to be on you’re a d— fool.”