Dems ask McCarthy to recant Pelosi taunt as tensions rise

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks at a news conference on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, July 29, 2021, to complain about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the leadership of President Joe Biden, and guidelines on face masks by the Centers for Disease Control. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Several House Democrats have called on House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy to apologize to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or resign after audio surfaced of him saying at a weekend fundraiser that it would be “hard not to hit her” with a gavel if he’s sworn in as speaker after the 2022 midterm elections.

The comment is emblematic of the rising tension between the two leaders since the Jan. 6 protest at the Capitol.

Democrats responded quickly, noting the threats on Pelosi’s life on Jan. 6, when several protesters trespassed into her office, stole some of her belongings and criticized her.

“Threatening violence against the Speaker of the House is no joke,” tweeted New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney. “This is the kind of reckless language that led to a violent insurrection.”

The public strain between the two — extraordinary even by congressional standards — has moved beyond the protest into most every matter between them as McCarthy is eyeing the speakership and an election map that could be favorable to Republicans next year. McCarthy last week blamed Pelosi for a renewed mask mandate in the House as “a decision conjured up by liberal government officials who want to continue to live in a perpetual pandemic state.” Pelosi shot back that he was a “moron.”

On Saturday, McCarthy was attending a Tennessee Republican Party Fundraiser when he was gifted an oversized gavel with the words “fire Pelosi” on it, according to local publication Main Street Nashville, which also posted audio of the comments. McCarthy responded by saying that he wanted the crowd to watch Pelosi hand him the gavel if he wins the speakership, and “it’ll be hard not to hit her with it, but I will bang it down.”

Asked about the comments, McCarthy’s office said in a statement that “he was joking.”

Democratic Reps. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Eric Swalwell of California said McCarthy should step down. “I’ve said it before & I’ll say it again—he should RESIGN!!” tweeted McGovern.

While already disagreeing on most policy matters, McCarthy and Pelosi have also clashed in recent weeks over the mask mandate, which some Republicans have resisted and argued is not based on science. The requirement was re-instituted in the House after a recommendation from the Capitol Physician.

Asked about her “moron” comment last week, Pelosi responded: “To say that wearing a mask is not based on science, I think is not wise, but that’s all I am going to say about that.”

McCarthy also withdrew five members from a select committee established last month to investigate the protest after Pelosi rejected two of his members, saying they couldn’t sit on the panel because of their “antics” defending Trump after the attack. McCarthy called the move an “egregious abuse of power” and the committee a “sham.”

Holding a news conference ahead of the committee’s first hearing, in which police officers spoke emotionally about their physical and mental pain after the rioting, McCarthy and his leadership tried to shift blame from the Trump supporters who laid siege to Pelosi herself. McCarthy said there were “questions into the leadership within the structure of the Speaker’s office” about delays in the National Guard’s arrival that day.