Washington (CNN)It lasted all of 30 seconds. Rep. Maxine Waters was at the podium to explain just what she thought of FBI Director James Comey after a briefing on the Russia investigation.
Waters: Can I help you? What do you want?
Reporter: Can you tell us anything about the discussion?
Waters: No, it’s classified. And we can’t tell you anything. All I can tell you is the FBI director has no credibility.
It was that barely there January news conference that introduced Maxine Waters to millennials.
She is now “Auntie Maxine,” a GIF-able, highly quotable and T-shirt worthy progressive darling.
An article on Elle.com declared: “Congresswoman Maxine Waters Will Read You Now.”
A Salon writer listed five reasons Maxine Waters should be our next president.
(She has no plans to run.)
Yahoo Style: Maxine Waters Wears Trendiest Denim Jacket of the Season While Protesting Donald Trump.
And BET hailed: “Maxine Waters is Crowned the Queen of Shade.”
It’s not hard to see why she got that title — even though she had to ask her grandkids what “throwing shade” means. (See Merriam-Webster: “Shade is a subtle, sneering expression of contempt for or disgust with someone — sometimes verbal, and sometimes not.”)
Waters’ shade is sometimes verbal, and sometimes not.
“She makes the best faces, the perfect black women faces, faces that say 1,000 words without (her) saying anything,” said Brittany Packnett, who donned a “Maxine the Maverick” T-shirt as she posed for selfies with Waters at a Friday night event. “Social media is perfect to display that.”
For Waters, elected in 1990, the new-found attention is puzzling and energizing. She has ramped up her social media presence, headlined rallies and open mic nights.
“Did you come to be with Auntie Maxine?” she asked a cheering crowd Friday at Busboys and Poets.
Recalling the press briefing, Waters expressed — in much more colorful language — what she was up to, and seemed puzzled by the response.
“When I came out of that classified briefing, I wanted to let people know that bulls*** had just taken place,” Waters said. “It went viral. I was just being me.”
Waters, the longest-serving black woman in Congress, has attracted the kind of Internet buzz not seen since Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose rumpled look and talk of revolution endeared him to mostly white millennials, particularly young men. Waters is a favorite of the black twitterati and a fairly broad swath of progressives, who find her blunt talk of resistance and impeachment refreshing.
“It’s important for us to have her back and for us to follow her lead and to encourage people with similar platform,” Packnett said. “Now is the time when we need people to publicly, actively practice courage.”
Yet in some ways, Waters’ turn in the spotlight points to the Democratic party’s thin — and cautious — bench and leadership ranks. While most Democrats attended Trump’s inauguration, Waters refused to go, memorably saying she didn’t want to have anything to do with Trump. She has also frequently talked about leading Trump to impeachment, again, with the kind of colorful language that progressives and the internet loves.
“We have to stop his ass,” she said to the packed house at Busboys and Poets.
“Auntie, Auntie, Auntie, Auntie!” the crowd roared back.
So what to do with her new-found platform?
Waters said she has approached Tom Perez, the newly elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee, about putting some resources into engaging millennials. Though Hillary Clinton was a majority younger voters’ choice for president — 55%-37% of voters aged 18-29, per exit polls — she underperformed President Barack Obama’s 2012 showing against Mitt Romney, who won the same group 60%-37%.
“I’m not a leader of millennials. I can be a catalyst, I can be an enabler,” she said in an interview with CNN. “I want to open up doors with my party … I know there is a lack of trust a lack of real relationships between these young people and my party.”
“I want to get them in at least to see what it is they would like to change and how they can do that. We can ensure that they really are involved with what the party does,” she added.