Debbie Dingell says Trump 'crossed a line' on her late husband, but she doesn't 'need an apology'

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said Sunday President Trump “crossed a line” when he mocked her late husband at a campaign rally, but said she doesn’t need an apology from him either. Instead, the lawmaker said she hopes the episode will be a lesson for the president to “think a little more sometimes.”

"We have to learn in our country that you can disagree agreeably. I understand that this impeachment was a very personal issue to him. But I think there are lines that you don't cross. And I think he crossed a line there,” Dingell said on "Fox News Sunday." “I don't need an apology, don't want an apology. I don't want a campaign to begin around that. What I do want is people to take a deep breath and think going forward that their words have consequences, that they can hurt, and how do we bring more civility back to our political environment."

While speaking at a rally in Battle Creek, Mich., last week, Trump brought up the late congressman and his widow, who now holds his seat and voted, along with almost all the House Democrats, for impeachment.

“Debbie Dingell, that’s a real beauty,” Trump said, noting he was watching her on television during the impeachment proceedings.

The president said he gave the Dingell family the “A-plus treatment” after John Dingell’s death in February, falsely claiming he allowed him to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. (That honor can only be bestowed by Congress. Trump did order flags at half-staff after Dingell’s death.) Trump described an emotional phone call with Debbie Dingell, in which she thanked him for his consideration and told him that her husband was looking down from heaven and “thrilled.” 

“Maybe he’s looking up,” Trump wisecracked, drawing some moans from the crowd in Michigan, a state Dingell represented for more than 59 years, although his district was in another part of the state. 

Rep. John Dingell through the years
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Rep. John Dingell through the years
UNITED STATES - MARCH 31: PATIENTS BILL OF RIGHTS--John D. Dingell,D-Mich., during House and Senate Democrats press conference to introduce the managed care bill. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 01: Rep. John Dingell at International Investors Conference. (Photo by Karl Schumacher/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
3/15/1983- Washington, DC: Closeup at press conference of Congressman John Dingell.
FILE - In this June 2, 1977 file photo, President Jimmy Carter hosts a breakfast in the Family Dining Room of the White House in Washington for House Subcommittee members on Energy and Power. From left are Rep. John M. Murphy (D-N.Y.), Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), President Carter, Rep. Harley Staggers (D-W Va.), Rep. Andrew Maguire (D-N.J.), and Rep. Timothy Wirth (D-Colo.). Fifty seven years ago, Rep. John Dingell, who this week becomes the longest serving member of Congress in history, nearly began his career in tears on the floor of the House. Members were delivering tributes to his father, John Dingell Sr., who had died recently. (AP Photo/Charles Harrity, File)
Congressman John Dingell in camouflage during geese hunting expedition. (Photo by Kenneth Garrett/Woodfin Camp/Woodfin Camp/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Washington, DC: President Reagan reaches for a pen to sign legislation, January 6, to bail out the farm credit system, providing the first federal aid to the nation's largest agriculture lender since the Great Depression. Behind Reagan, pushing in his chair for him are, from left, Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat - Vermont); Representative John Dingell (Democrat - Michigan); and Representative James Jeffords (Republican - Vermont.)
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., comments on President Jimmy Carter during an interview in his Capitol Hill office on June 12, 1979. Carter arrived in Washington as an outsider and remains an outsider to Washington politics. Dingell is nevertheless a supporter of the president. (AP Photo/John Duricka)
House Energy Comm. Chmn. Rep. John Dingell (Dem-MI) in his Capitol Hill office. (Photo by Terry Ashe/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 28: PROFILE:John D. Dingell,D-Mich.,in his office at Rayburn House Office Building. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
Rep. John David Dingell, D-Mich., House of Representatives Member, having a front row seat during panel discussion on the first day of the Democratic Party retreat. March 8, 1991 (Photo by Maureen Keating/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 11: TELELCOMMUNICATIONS PROVISIONS--During his opening statement, ranking member John Dingell, D-Mich., right, jokes with Chairman Tom Bliley, R-Va., during full Commerce Committee markup of FY98 budget provision dealing with spectrum sales. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., is in foreground. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 19: PATIENTS' RIGHTS--John D. Dingell, D-Mich., Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., middle, and Greg Ganske, R-Iowa, during a news conference on the Senate patients' rights bill. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 06: Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., House Energy and Commerce ranking Democrat John D. Dingell, D-Mich., and House Ways and Means ranking Democrat Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., during a news conference on the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, which was created by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2003 and is now being implemented. Seniors have until May 15 to sign up for a Medicare prescription drug plan without being charged a penalty. Democrats say the deadline should be extended to allow seniors, as Capps put it, to 'navigate this complicated maze of rules and regulations' fraught with 'mixed messages and mass confusion.' Dingell was a member of the House in 1965 when Congress launched the Medicare health care program for the elderly and disabled. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (L)(D-CA) is given a box of paczki, a traditional pastry commonly eaten on Fat Tuesday, from the Chene Modern Bakery in Detroit from Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (R)(D-MI) on Feburary 5, 2007 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO / TIM SLOAN (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 28: Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., and his wife Debbie Dingell, attend the Susan G. Komen for the Cure's Honoring the Promise benefit at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on October 28, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - JULY 29: Former Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., wields the gavel he used when he presided over the vote to pass Medicare in 1965 during the House Democrats' event to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid on Wednesday, July 29, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

“It just sort of kicked me in the stomach” Dingell said after Wallace showed a clip of Trump’s remark. “It was a politicization of something that didn’t need to be so.”

In defense of the president, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham called Trump a “counterpuncher,” although it wasn’t clear from her remarks whom he was punching against: the deceased lawmaker, or his widow. She said Trump was “just riffing” in the presence of “a very, very supportive and wild crowd.”

“He has been under attack, and under impeachment attack, for the last few months, and then just under attack politically for the last two and a half years. I think that as we all know, the president is a counterpuncher,” Grisham said. “It was a very, very supportive and wild crowd, and he was just riffing on some of the things that had been happening the past few days.”

When asked why Trump won’t apologize to Dingell for his comments, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, defended Trump, saying that while the administration respects John Dingell’s service, the late congressman was “not exactly a wallflower.”

“I’m sorry she’s hurting and I certainly wish her the best as she deals with the circumstances,” Short said when Wallace pointed out that this year, Dingell will be celebrating Christmas without her husband for the first time in 38 years. “I think that our administration respects the service of John Dingell. … We respect his service to our country in Congress, and we respect her service to our country in her following her husband in Congress. 

“But in light of where we were on Wednesday night [when the House voted to approve two articles of impeachment], I think the president was saying John Dingell was not exactly a wallflower,” Short continued. “John Dingell called the president an imbecile in his closing months. John Dingell himself as well had a lot of critical comments about the president, yet he took time to call Debbie Dingell to express his personal condolences on the passing. He lowered flags to half-mast. I think at the time and the moment the president is feeling, you know, that in the midst of an impeachment vote that that was something that came up in his rally speech.”

House members from both parties have called for Trump to apologize, but Debbie Dingell said she just hoped “something good” could come from this episode.

“This is going to be a hard holiday for me. It’s been hard, I miss him with my whole heart and soul. But if something good can come out of this, if maybe the president can think a little more sometimes. ... I would like to work with the president and everyone else to be just a little be kinder,” Dingell said.


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