For most members of Congress, being caught on tape calling a group of their colleagues “demons” would be a big surprise.

But not when it’s Maxine Waters of California, who Republicans are criticizing for using that term to describe House GOP leaders. The 73-year-old, among the longest-serving black members of Congress, is known as one of the House’s smartest members and also one of its most controversial.

She has spent much of the last two years under investigation by the House Ethics Committee over allegations that in 2008 Waters improperly tried to steer money to a minority bank that her husband had invested heavily in. In 2010, Waters had a highly unusual press conference, trying to rebut the charges point-by-by point and declaring “I won’t go behind closed doors, I won’t cut a deal, I will continue to talk about the fact that I have not violated anything.” (The committee’s investigation remains unresolved)

Unlike most of members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who rarely voice criticism of President Obama, she has frequently suggested his administration has not done enough to help the black community, particularly regarding high African-American unemployment.

Last summer, she urged black voters to “unleash” members of the CBC and allow the caucus to take a more confrontational stand against the president.

Unlike that remark, which drew criticism from some African-American leaders, her latest
sentiments may be more broadly shared by liberals and blacks, if perhaps more impolitely stated.

“I saw pictures of Boehner and Cantor on our screens,” she said at a Democratic Party event in California, referring to screens at the events. “Don’t ever let me see again, in life, those Republicans in our hall, on our screens, talking about anything. These are demons. These are legislators who are destroying this country.”

“That is a sad and unfortunate speech from a senior House Democrat, particularly at a time when we should be trying to find common ground on ways to get Americans back to work,” said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, according to Fox News.

The comment is unlikely to damage her politically. Waters represents a heavily Democratic district where she won by 58 points over her Republican opponent in 2010.

Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr