Congressman-elect Dan Crenshaw (R., Texas) repeatedly challenged three newly-elected Democrats to defend their claims and tone down their rhetoric during a joint appearance on "Face the Nation" Sunday.
During the appearance, Congressman-elect Joseph Neguse (D., Colo.) claimed American democracy was imperiled. "I think we're all working together really in the same direction trying to save our democracy, to be frank," he said.
CBS News host Margaret Brennan asked him to expand. "Why do you say, ‘save our democracy?'" she asked.
Recent Stories in Politics
Neguse said President Donald Trump’s administration "is undermining a lot of critical freedoms for folks in our country." He said Americans need to "save our democracy" and our "democratic freedoms" that "have been under attack for the better part of the last two years." Neguse, the son of Eritrean refugees, ran a progressive campaign that was endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.).
Crenshaw pushed back. He pointed out Democrats had just democratically returned to power in the House of Representatives and that voter turnout was at record highs. "Democracy is at work," he said. "What democratic freedoms have been undermined?" he asked the assembled Democrats.
All three of the other panel participants jumped in.
Congresswoman-elect Chrissy Houlahan (D., Pa.) said Trump was "disruptive" and "disrespect[ful]" during press briefings.
"How is that an attack on the press, though?" Crenshaw asked.
"Because it's literally an attack on the press," Houlahan replied.
Crenshaw took umbrage with the claim. "I have literally been attacked," he said, "so let's choose our words carefully." Crenshaw, a retired Navy SEAL, lost an eye in combat during a tour in Afghanistan. Houlahan served as an Air Force officer and was stationed in Bedford, Massachusetts.
Houlahan changed course, arguing instead that the president was setting a poor example. Crenshaw agreed, but noted she had accused the president of much worse than being a poor example.
"If you want the criticize style, I'm with you," Crenshaw said, "but to say it's an attack on the freedom of the press, that is a very bold statement."
Crenshaw won widespread praise for his appearance earlier this month on "Saturday Night Live," in which he forgave a cast member for his widely-criticized joke about Crenshaw’s physical appearance. On SNL, Crenshaw called for greater forgiveness and mutual understanding.
Congresswoman-elect Deb Haaland (D., N.M.) jumped in, rolling out a litany of charges against the president. She said Trump calling the press the "enemy of the people" was an attack, and that Trump was "erasing trans people."
"He's never said that," Crenshaw replied.
"Well, it appears that he is discriminating against the LGBTQ community," she said. Haaland, like Houlahan, tried a new approach, pointing to his administration's former child separation policy.
"We all have communities in, across this country," she said, "and we mentioned it at the beginning, ripping children away from their parents' arms. Those are all things that worry me, that I absolutely feel that we have to have oversight on."
Haaland, Houlahan, Neguse, and Crenshaw are part of the wave of new faces coming to Washington in the 116th Congress. Of the four on the panel, only Crenshaw is a Republican.
Before Crenshaw could reply, Houlahan jumped in again with examples of the president "attacking" democracy. She claimed Trump was "maligning the CIA and the FBI and the State Department and all those important institutions that are fundamental to how our democracy works."
Crenshaw argued none of those were an "attack" on democracy. "So what I hear a lot is you don’t like what he says sometimes," Crenshaw replied.
Crenshaw lamented that the assembled Democrats were leveling charges of "undermining democracy" instead of discussing their substantive policy disagreements. "I want to caution us because those are very bold words," he said, suggesting politicians focus on policy disagreements instead. "But this is what I’ve been getting at, kind of, all week. We tend to go right at the jugular, right? We say, ‘You're undermining democracy. You're a bad person fundamentally.’ That's not always true.