House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California) is facing criticism for joking about hitting the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) with the Speaker’s gavel if Republicans win the House in the 2022 midterm elections.
During a GOP fundraiser Saturday, Republican members of the Tennessee congressional delegation presented McCarthy with an oversized gavel, symbolic of the one Pelosi uses in her role as Speaker. The Republican leader responded by inviting those in attendance to come to Washington, D.C., in 2023, should the GOP win control of the House next year.
“I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel,” McCarthy said. “It will be hard not to hit her with it.”
A spokesperson for Pelosi said that McCarthy’s comments were out of line, especially in light of the threats on the Speaker’s life during the attack on the Capitol building on January 6, when a mob in support of former President Donald Trump threatened to upend the certification of the 2020 election results.
“A threat of violence to someone who was a target of a #January6th assassination attempt from your fellow Trump supporters is irresponsible and disgusting,” tweeted Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff Drew Hammill.
Democrats have demanded an apology from McCarthy.
“America has suffered enough violence around politics. @GOPLeader McCarthy is now a would-be assailant of @SpeakerPelosi,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-California) said. “He needs to resign.”
“There’s nothing funny about hitting Speaker Pelosi or any woman,” agreed Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pennsylvania). “Leader McCarthy is a failed leader. He continues to reminds [sic] us that nothing will get in the way of his ambitions — including joking about hitting a woman to excite his small base.”
“It’s no wonder Kevin McCarthy can’t control his caucus,” opined Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Massachusetts). “He can’t even control his own misogyny. His language about assaulting @SpeakerPelosi is despicable and certainly undeserving of a gavel.”
Notably, federal law makes it a crime to “knowingly and willfully” make threats to any individual who is part of the line of succession to the office of the president. Pelosi, as Speaker of the House, is second in line. McCarthy is unlikely to face severe repercussions for his comments over the weekend, but his words will likely inflame the far right base of supporters, which the Republican Party has done little to quell in the months since the attacks on January 6.
Tensions between Pelosi and McCarthy have escalated in recent weeks over the January 6 commission. McCarthy sought to name individuals to that commission that had spread false narratives of what happened on that day (including wrongly placing blame on the Speaker for the violence that occurred), prompting Pelosi to reject those picks. In response, McCarthy withdrew all of his nominations in protest, forcing Pelosi to name Republicans to serve on it.
Republicans are hopeful that McCarthy can lead his party to take control of the House in the 2022 midterm races next year. Typically, the opposition party to a new president performs well in the first midterms, but polling suggests it could be difficult this time around for the Republican leader to become the next Speaker of the House.
An Economist/YouGov poll conducted in late July found that both political parties are under water when it comes to their approval ratings among the American electorate. However, whereas Democrats have a net rating of -8 points, Republicans’ net rating is far worse, at -22 points, the poll found.
A poll from Quinnipiac University suggests that these viewpoints could translate into an upset win for Democrats in 2022, if the trends hold true between now and then. Asked who they preferred to win the House next year, 49 percent of respondents in that poll, conducted in late May, said they wanted Democrats to stay in power, while only 40 percent said they hoped Republicans would win.
In spite of those odds, it’s possible Republicans could wrest control of the House from Democrats without even needing to court more voters than they did in 2020. An analysis from a Democratic-aligned data firm called TargetSmart last week found that Republicans could pick up between six to 13 seats by gerrymandering political maps in four southern states alone.