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Paul Ryan has no problem going after Maxine Waters — even as he evades Steve King’s misdeeds

The speaker called on one lawmaker to apologize. But he didn’t even mention the other by name.

House Speaker Paul Ryan Holds Weekly Press Conference At The Capitol Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday forcefully condemned Rep. Maxine Waters’s calls to protest Trump officials — even as he skirted critiquing Rep. Steve King by name for his promotion of a neo-Nazi, thereby highlighting a conspicuous double standard he has for his own party.

“If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere,” Waters said about the Sarah Sanders flap at a rally in Los Angeles last weekend. After a Virginia restaurant owner, who is critical of the administration’s policies, asked Sanders, Trump’s press secretary, to leave her establishment on Friday, the incident has drawn pushback from Republicans and Democrats alike and kicked off a debate about civility.

“She should apologize,” Ryan said about Waters at a news conference on Tuesday. “There’s just no place for that in our public discourse.”

While the speaker is far from the only lawmaker to voice criticism of Waters, his response is notable given how markedly different it is from the tepid shrugs he has offered when asked to address Republican shortcomings.

The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel and Cathleen Decker highlighted Ryan’s seeming departure from his standard reactions, in a thread on Twitter.

As Weigel pointed out, Ryan appeared to give Rep. Steve King the benefit of the doubt after his post last year of a strikingly xenophobic tweet arguing that the United States can’t “restore our civilization with someone else’s babies.” Ryan said, “I don’t think that statement reflects what is special about this country,” adding, “I would like to think he misspoke, and it wasn’t meant the way it sounds, and I hope he’s clarified that.”

As The Post noted, King did, in fact, clarify his position and further emphasize that he meant exactly what he said. More recently, King — who has a long history of making racist comments — was back in the news for retweeting a neo-Nazi, a move that prompted nary an eyebrow raise from Ryan and several other members of the GOP establishment.

On Tuesday Ryan appeared to chime in with a statement that broadly opposed Nazis but did not mention King by name. “The speaker has said many times that Nazis have no place in our politics, and clearly members should not engage with anyone promoting hate,” Ryan’s spokesperson Ashlee Strong said in a statement, which The Daily Beast’s Sam Stein shared.

Ryan’s tight-lipped approach has hardly been limited to members of Congress. He’s also been incredibly reluctant to criticize bad behavior from members of the Trump administration, even as evidence of such acts continue to pile up. Earlier this month he was lampooned for pleading ignorance about the myriad scandals surrounding Scott Pruitt, the EPA’s administrator.

“Frankly, I haven’t paid that close attention to them,” Ryan said, when asked about the swirl of high-profile controversies — from lotion-gate to a questionable housing deal — that have engulfed Pruitt. “I don’t know enough about what Pruitt has or has not done to give you a good comment,” the speaker added.

Ryan was more than prepared to levy judgment on Waters this week, however, deeming her comments “dangerous for our democracy.”

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