Rep. Debbie Dingell called President Donald Trump's suggestion that her late lawmaker husband John Dingell was "looking up" from hell hurtful on Thursday as a bipartisan group of lawmakers demanded the president apologize for the macabre crack.
Dingell told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell she was stunned when she learned about Trump's comments about her husband during his Wednesday night rally in her home state of Michigan.
"I don't know why he decided to do what he did last night but to say it didn't hurt wouldn't be the truth," said the widow, whose 92-year-old husband died in February.
"It hurt. I loved my husband," the Democratic congresswoman said. "We had a love affair most never have, and it's been a hard holiday season, and those kinds of shots — people forget that members of Congress are human, and we go through real hard times."
Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a top Trump ally, and two House Republicans from Michigan called for the never-penitent president to say he's sorry. "If he said that I think he should apologize," Graham told reporters Thursday morning. He said he hadn't seen the remarks, but "that would be a bad thing to say." "John Dingell is a fine, fine man," Graham said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also said "what the president misunderstands is that cruelty is not wit."
"Just because he gets a laugh for saying the cruel things that he says doesn't mean he's funny," Pelosi said. "It's not funny at all. It's very sad."
Former vice president and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Thursday praised John Dingell as "a patriot" on Twitter and said of Trump, "This is equally as cruel as it is pathetic, and it is beyond unconscionable that our President would behave this way."
Trump ignored questions about his comments in a press availability with reporters in the Oval Office on Thursday.
Trump made the remarks during a two-hour long campaign rally in Battle Creek which began as the House was voting to impeach him. He implied that Debbie Dingell, who's held her husband's seat in Michigan since 2014, was ungrateful for coming out in favor of his impeachment.
"Debbie Dingell, that's a real beauty," Trump told the crowd, noting that he'd ordered flags lowered after her husband died. John Dingell had been the longest serving member of Congress, serving for 59 years.
Trump said he gave Dingell an "A-plus" memorial.
"I gave him everything. I don't want anything. I don't need anything for anything," Trump said. "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.'
"Maybe he's looking up, I don't know. I don't know. Maybe," Trump said to loud laughs and groans. "But let's assume he's looking down."
Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics
Trump said we wouldn't go further into their conversation "because it's not fair to do that," but he said: "It was the most profuse thank you that you could ever get. On a scale of 1 to 10, it was a 10, OK?"
Debbie Dingell responded online a short time later.
"Mr. President, let's set politics aside. 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," she wrote.
Debbie Dingell said on MSNBC that Trump had called her after her husband's death, and told her he was ordering the nation's flag's lowered for the day in his honor.
"I appreciated that call. He was very empathetic on that call. His kindness meant a lot. I was grateful and am still to this day even after the remarks last night — kindness meant a lot at a difficult time," she said.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., tweeted that Trump should apologize for the "unfortunate" remark.
On Thursday, Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Mich., demanded an apology, too.
"John Dingell was a well-respected man & I consider Debbie a close colleague and friend," Mitchell tweeted. "To use his name in such a dishonorable manner at last night’s rally is unacceptable from anyone, let alone the President of the United States. An apology is due, Mr. President."
In a followup tweet, Mitchell wrote: "#IStandWithDingell"
Late in the 2016 campaign, Dingell, a World War II veteran, said Trump should "go to hell" in response to a Fox News interview where Trump said he "wouldn't want to be in a foxhole" with then-Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. McCain, now deceased, remains a frequent target of Trump's ire.
"On behalf of so many of my fellow veterans: Please take two running jumps and go to hell, Mr. Trump," Dingell wrote.
McCain's daughter, Meghan McCain, responded to Trump's comments on Twitter, calling them "horrific."
McCain's widow, Cindy McCain, tweeted to Debbie Dingell, writing, "I'm terribly sorry. Please know I am thinking about you."
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Thursday that she had not spoken to Trump about his Dingell comments, adding that she is "very, very sorry for" the congresswoman's "loss and I would thank her and I would thank her late husband for all of the service to our country."
"He was at a political rally," she said when pressed on Trump's remarks. "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 as we all know, the president is a counter-puncher. It was a very, very supportive and wild crowd and he was just riffing on some of the things that have happened the past few days."
Debbie Dingell said she's not asking for an apology — but she's hoping for more "civility" in the future.
"People need to remember we're all human. I don't like the tone of the rhetoric in this country right now," she said. "People think bullying and vitriolic comments and this whole tone of cheap shots and divisiveness is okay. I think we need to get back to a time of civility and that you can disagree, but do it agreeably."