House Speaker Pelosi rebukes reporter: 'Don't mess with me'

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., responds forcefully to a question from a reporter who asked if she hated President Trump, after announcing earlier that the House is moving forward to draft articles of impeachment against Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promptly set a reporter, and by inference, all of Washington, straight: "Don't mess with me."

Pelosi's bristling response Thursday to a question about whether she "hates" President Donald Trump came two hours after she announced articles of impeachment against him.

The House speaker insisted she brought impeachment proceedings because Trump's conduct and the Constitution left the House no choice.

But as the famously poised California Democrat began exiting her weekly press conference, a reporter asked, "Do you hate the president, Madam Speaker?"

Pelosi stopped, jabbed a finger and fired back: "I don't hate anybody." She broke with her usual habit, returned to the podium and finished with a stark warning.

"Don't mess with me when it comes to words like that," she said, and walked out.

Moments later, Trump and House Republicans lashed out in heated personal tones.

Trump tweeted that Pelosi "just had a nervous fit." House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted "Pelosi and the Democrats are clearly are blinded by their hate for the President."

Pelosi has generally dominated confrontations with Trump all year in her second turn as House speaker, second in line to the presidency.

In January, she forced Trump to re-open the government without the border wall he was demanding. She launched only the fourth presidential impeachment proceedings in history over Trump's political pressure campaign on Ukraine. And Trump knows her finger-pointing well, most recently during a White House meeting in which she stood, pointed at him and said, "all roads lead to Putin," Russia's president - and walked out.

Now, she's leading an impeachment inquiry that's roiled Capitol Hill and the sharply divided nation.

The president's actions have seriously violated the Constitution," "Pelosi said earlier from the speaker's office at the Capitol. "He is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit. The president has engaged in abuse of power, undermining our national security and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections ."

"Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our founders and a heart full of love for America, today I am asking our chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment," Pelosi said.

Just back from leading a congressional trip to Spain on climate change, Pelosi, her voice hoarse, halted on her way out of the later press conference when the reporter posed the question about hate.

'I don't hate anybody," she said, before going on to call the president a "coward" on gun policy, "cruel" on immigration and "in denial" about climate change.

"This is about the Constitution of the United States and the facts that lead to the president's violation of the oath of office. And as a Catholic I resent your using the word hate in a sentence that addresses me.''

Pelosi said she prays for Trump. She frequently invokes her Catholicism as a guide in her decisions for everything from legislation to life generally. She has been criticized by some Catholics for her support for keeping abortion legal.

Within moments, the president was back on Twitter. "She says she 'prays for the President.' I don't believe her, not even close."

McCarthy said, "The speaker is more concerned about tearing the president down than building the country up.''