President Trump took a swipe at the late Representative John Dingell during hisWednesday evening, drawing a quick rebuke from the widow of the longtime Michigan Democratic congressman who succeeded him in the House and from one of his biggest Republican allies, Senator Lindsey Graham.
Mr. Trump claimed Debbie Dingell had thanked him profusely for providing "A-plus treatment" after her husband's death in February, including ordering flags flown at half-staff.
He quoted her as saying, "Thank you so much. John would be so thrilled. He's looking down." Then he added: "I said, 'That's OK. Don't worry about it.' Maybe he's looking up. I don't know."
The congresswoman was quick to respond.
"Mr. President, let's set politics aside," she tweeted. "My husband earned all his accolades after a lifetime of service. 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."
Later in the day, on a Fox News appearance, Graham defended and simultaneously criticized the president.
"President Trump made sure [Dingell] got the respect he deserved from a lifetime of service ... but I think his sense of humor doesn't play well here."
"He made a joke last night. He said the same joke, made the same joke about John McCain. It is not funny," and Graham said he told the president that directly.
Mr. Trump's disparaging remarks followed Debbie Dingell and other lawmakers voting to impeach him. Debbie Dingell tweeted a photo showing herself holding hands with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shortly after the impeachment articles were approved:
John Dingell was the longest-serving member of Congress ever. He held the seat from 1955 to 2015.
Mr. Trump's comments were considered particularly surprising given the Dingells' standing in Michigan. He was viewed as a champion of unions and the auto companies. She comes from an automotive family and has cultivated a bipartisan image back home. They're considered Michigan royalty.
White House press secretary and communications director Stephanie Grisham said on "CBS This Morning" Thursday she didn't hear Mr. Trump's remark about John Dingell maybe "looking up."
"But I will say that we do thank her for her service and we are very, very sorry for the passing of her husband," Grisham said. "We thank him for his service. The president did do at her request all that he could. He lowered the flag at the White House, did all that he could to honor him."
"You've got to remember this president has been under attack now for two and a half years," she said. "Tensions are high. The rally last night, there was a lot of – a lot of passionate people. And I think that a lot of riffing was going on. But at the end of the day, the president did do all he could to honor her husband. And again, we're very, very sorry for the loss."
Debbie Dingell was hardly the only one upset by the president's comment.Republican congressman Fred Upton of Michigan, who voted against impeaching Mr. Trump, also condemned Mr. Trump's remarks.
"I've 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," he tweeted.
Michigan Rep. Haley Stevens, a fellow Democrat, was among others who came to the Dingells' defense. "This is shameful Mr. President. Insinuating that John Dingell, a loving catholic, WWII hero, now rests in hell. How dare you?" she tweeted. "I have no words for the pain you are causing my dear friend Debbie Dingell and the people of Michigan right now."
Staunch Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters the president should "apologize" for the comments.