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Republican jokes of hitting Speaker with gavel



SPEAKER Nancy Pelosi is handed the US House of Representatives gavel by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy during the turnover of the lower chamber’s leadership post on 3 January 2021 following her re-election. / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The top Republican in the US House of Representatives faced calls to apologize or resign Sunday after joking about hitting speaker Nancy Pelosi with a gavel.

It marked a sharp escalation in a nasty spat between the Republican minority leader Kevin McCarthy and Pelosi, the chamber’s top Democrat.

At a fundraising dinner Saturday night in Tennessee, McCarthy spoke with optimism about prospects for his party retaking the House in mid-term elections next year.

At one point attendees presented him with an oversized gavel, prompting him to joke that — should he become speaker — he would struggle to resist striking Pelosi with it.

“I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel. It will be hard not to hit her with it but I will bang it down,” McCarthy said to cheers and laughter from the room, according to details shared by a Washington Post reporter and a local Nashville journalist who were at the event.

McCarthy’s comments were the latest sign of his deteriorating relations with Pelosi — who last week called her Republican counterpart a “moron” for opposing mask mandates to fight the resurgent Covid-19 pandemic.

Democrats pounced on McCarthy Sunday.

Representative Ted Lieu of California urged McCarthy to apologize or resign, a call echoed by fellow California lawmaker Eric Swalwell.

“Violence against women is not a joke,” tweeted Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez of New Mexico, one of a string of female lawmakers who voiced outrage at the comments.

“Threatening political violence is not a joke. These comments are misogynistic and dangerous,” she wrote.

“Language like this led to violence and death at the United States Capitol. @GOPLeader knows his words carry weight,” tweeted Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan.

She appeared to be referring to then president Donald Trump’s fiery language in a 6 January speech to a crowd that went on to overrun the US Capitol as Congress was certifying Joe Biden’s election win.

Pelosi was a main target of the mob as it rampaged through the Capitol, in an insurrection that left five people dead.