Scalise Defends Trump Joking About Gianforte Assaulting a Reporter

Majority whip says Trump was ‘ribbing’ Gianforte, not asking his supporters to engage in violence

Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., defended President Donald Trump’s support of a congressman’s assault on a reporter as a joke that does not equate to Democrats’ inciting violence against Trump supporters and Republican candidates. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise has been on TV, Twitter and writing op-eds criticizing Democrats for inciting violence, but on Friday he defended President Donald Trump’s comments about a congressman’s assault on a reporter as simply a joke.

Last year Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte body slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs after the reporter tried to ask him questions about his views on a GOP health care plan. 

Trump, during a rally in Montana with Gianforte on Thursday night, said he thought the incident actually helped the Republican get elected to Congress. 

“Any guy who can do a body slam — he’s my guy,” Trump said of Gianforte. 

Trump has been widely criticized for the remarks, but Scalise came to the president’s defense in a Twitter thread Friday.

“President Trump was clearly ribbing Congressman Gianforte for last year’s incident, which he apologized for last year,” the Louisiana Republican said. “It’s obvious he was not encouraging his supporters to engage in attacks, and not one person harassed the numerous media reporters who were present."

Scalise then went on to attack the media, calling their reports on the matter “irresponsible” for trying to equate Trump’s joke with Democratic leaders’ “threatening rhetoric to call on their supporters to harass Trump officials, supporters, and Republican members and candidates.”

“I find it disingenuous when some in the media refuse to report or call out actual violence by leftist protestors, yet they’ll whip into a hysterical frenzy over what clearly was a joke at a rally,” Scalise said. “This is about which party has the best ideas, not which party has the most bullies.”

Bully is a term that Trump’s critics have frequently used to describe his behavior, not just in relation to the Gianforte incident but his persistent name calling and mocking of political foes. 

Scalise, the third-ranking Republican in the House who might move up to the No. 1 or No. 2 position in the next Congress, was shot during a congressional baseball practice last year by a gunman who disagreed with his political views. Since then Scalise has condemned Democrats who have incited violence, as well as the Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial candidate who threatened to stomp all over his opponents face while wearing golf spikes

Not all Republicans share Scalise’s view on Trump’s comments. 

“The President encourages & applauds physical violence against a journalist,” former GOP Rep. Joe Walsh, now a conservative radio host, wrote on Twitter. “Hey Republicans, don’t ever complain again about violence coming from the Left.”

As Trump was in Montana Thursday joking about Gianforte’s assault, which he pleaded guilty to as a misdemeanor charge, Scalise published a Fox News op-ed expressing dismay that Democrats have not condemned incidents in which Republican candidates and volunteers have been attacked by political opponents. 

“Words have consequences and as all of these Democratic Party leaders know, they are in positions of great influence,” Scalise wrote in the op-ed. “Their supporters respond to their leadership. But instead of using this authority to strengthen our democracy, their calls for bullying and harassment have undermined it and have incited violence.”

Scalise also made a suggestion in the op-ed that could easily apply to Trump’s comments and Democrats’ actions, although it’s clear from his tweets he doesn’t see it that way.

“Only when someone is losing the debate does he or she resort to violence, and there is no place in American discourse for harassment or intimidation,” he wrote in the op-ed. “It is not who we are as Americans.”

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