At a fund-raiser last Saturday, the Tennessee GOP’s annual Statesmen’s Dinner presented Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, with an oversized gavel, a nod to his dream job as House speaker. Seven months after insurrectionists breached the Capitol and explicitly targeted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, McCarthy used the occasion to make an ugly joke about hitting her.
“I’ll make this one promise here: When we win the majority, which I know we’re going to, you’re all invited,” said McCarthy on audio captured by Vivian Jones, a Main Street Nashville reporter. “I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel. It’ll be hard not to hit her with it, but I will bang it down.” His audience laughed and applauded.
Pelosi is right. McCarthy is “a moron,” and not only because he whined about a new Capitol mask mandate with the Delta variant driving another COVID-19 surge. He would have to be to make such a shrill comment about Pelosi in a political climate poisoned by a party with a greater appetite for destruction than for democracy.
It wasn’t a harmless joke. It’s gas-soaked kindling tossed into a fire.
“A threat of violence to someone who was a target of a #January6 assassination attempt from your fellow Trump supporters is irresponsible and disgusting,” tweeted Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff.
Others pounced as well. “It’s no wonder Kevin McCarthy can’t control his caucus. He can’t even control his own misogyny,” tweeted Representative Lori Trahan of Massachusetts. “Violence against women is no laughing matter,” Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York tweeted.
Of course, a so-called joke about hitting a woman isn’t surprising coming from McCarthy, who was one of 172 Republicans to vote against reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act earlier this year. Yet this latest bit of verbal nastiness goes beyond the GOP’s usual disdain for women’s bodies and safety.
That’s because McCarthy is Donald Trump’s sock puppet, and threats of violence reverberate with the twice-impeached former president. It’s the kind of quip Trump would make. During the 2016 presidential campaign, he suggested that maybe “the Second Amendment people” could do something about his opponent, Hillary Clinton, a barely veiled threat against the former first lady, senator, and secretary of state.
At his rallies, Trump often encouraged his supporters to pummel protestors. When millions took to the streets last summer after the police murder of George Floyd, Trump wanted the military to open fire on demonstrators, according to Michael Bender, a Wall Street Journal reporter and author of “Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost.”
In violence, Trump found a brute vernacular his supporters understood. And in the death throes of his failed presidency, it was unleashed when he told his fired-up sycophants at a rally before they stormed the Capitol to “fight like hell.”
Last month, Thomas Robertson, a Virginia police officer fired and arrested for storming the Capitol on Jan. 6, was sent back to jail after he allegedly purchased more than 30 guns on the Internet and was in possession of bomb-making materials. In an online rant posted after the insurrection, Robertson reportedly wrote that “the only voice these people will now listen to is violence.”
In 2021, threats against members of Congress have increased 107 percent, according to a Capitol Police report that states, “Provided the unique threat environment we currently live in, the Department is confident the number of cases will continue to increase.”
In this “unique threat environment,” McCarthy publicly joked about striking Pelosi with a gavel. Perhaps it was his retribution after her insult bruised his ego, but their comments are not equal. From far-right Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado flinging a mask back at a Democratic staffer who offered it to her, to every Republican trying to canonize Ashli Babbitt, a Capitol insurrectionist shot and killed by a police officer, this GOP is devoted only to lies and fomenting violence.
Though it’s futile to try and shame a shameless man, some Democrats are demanding that McCarthy resign or at least apologize for his revolting wisecrack about Pelosi. He won’t, but then why would he? McCarthy is carrying out his orders and giving the GOP’s base exactly the kind of loaded rhetoric they’ve come to expect from a party wholly controlled by its destructive Mar-a-Lago master.