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Attack on Paul Pelosi becomes punchline for some Republicans

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 11/1/2022 Amy Wang
Police stand at the top of the closed street outside the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband Paul Pelosi in San Francisco on Friday. © Eric Risberg/AP Police stand at the top of the closed street outside the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband Paul Pelosi in San Francisco on Friday.

Kari Lake, the Republican nominee for Arizona governor, appeared on Fox News on Monday night with a familiar complaint: The media was trying to silence her, she told host Tucker Carlson, this time for joking about the violent attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

“Nancy Pelosi, well, she’s got protection when she’s in D.C. — apparently her house doesn’t have a lot of protection,” Lake said at a campaign event earlier that day, drawing laughter from the interviewer and some in the crowd for her reference to an incident in which a hammer-wielding assailant broke into the Pelosis’ San Francisco home last week. Paul Pelosi, 82, is continuing to recover from a fractured skull and other wounds he sustained in the attack.

On Monday night, though, Lake lamented to Carlson that she was the one being attacked, over criticism she had received for mocking the Pelosis.

“We can’t talk about all these issues because the media has told us they’re prohibited,” Lake said. “You know, you can’t talk about vaccines. You can’t talk about elections. You can’t talk about Paul Pelosi — now you can’t talk about Nancy Pelosi. And you can’t talk about the elections and you can’t talk about covid, and I’m talking about all those things because I still believe we have a little bit of the First Amendment left — ”

“That’s right,” Carlson chimed in.

“ — but I’m dangerous to people like [Wyoming GOP Rep.] Liz Cheney and the folks that she hangs out with, and they want to stop people like me,” Lake added.

Most Republican leaders have condemned the attack on Paul Pelosi — though many were also quick to couple those denunciations with blame on “both sides” for the rise in political violence. But Lake’s quip at her campaign event was just the latest instance of some Republicans turning a brutal attack on the House speaker’s octogenarian husband into a punchline.

On the same day news of the attack broke, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) made light of it at a campaign rally in Stafford, Va., for GOP congressional candidate Yesli Vega.

“There’s no room for violence anywhere, but we’re going to send [Nancy Pelosi] back to be with him in California,” Youngkin told the crowd.

Youngkin, too, was swiftly criticized for a “disgusting, vile, and crass” joke and called on to apologize, though he did not.

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Though both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) have strongly condemned the attack on Paul Pelosi, they have remained quiet about their party members joking about or belittling the incident.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) retweeted a thread from far-right activist Matt Walsh challenging the notion that the alleged assailant was a militant right-winger, despite his blog in which he appears to have been deeply drawn into election falsehoods and political conspiracy theories.

Cruz quoted the thread dismissing DePape as “a hippie nudist from Berkeley” with one word: “truth.”

Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) tweeted and deleted a post Sunday that pushed a conspiracy theory mocking the attack. And the evening of the attack, Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) retweeted a photo of several men carrying hammers outside a home with a “United Against Hate” sign and a gay pride flag.

“LOL,” the freshman congresswoman added.

Asked on Wednesday whether Biden had used the “bully pulpit” of the White House to reach out to Republican leaders, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said political leaders should speak out forcefully against political violence automatically.

“It should not be controversial to speak out against political violence,” Jean-Pierre said. “The president believes that … he shouldn’t have to call [Republicans] to say, ‘Hey, you need to condemn what happened a little more forcefully.’ It should just be something that’s automatic, and they should just do that.”

Former president Bill Clinton, at a campaign event Wednesday for Democratic House candidate Josh Riley in New York, criticized Lake for joking about the attack on Paul Pelosi.

“She thinks that’s funny,” Clinton told the crowd. “When you’re 82 and you crack your skull, you thank God if you didn’t have any brain damage — but you know it’s going to take a long time to heal and you know in between now and then, bad things can happen to you.”

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Pelosi, who has vehemently denounced political violence in the past, including the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, has so far not linked politics to the attack on her husband.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter to members of Congress late Saturday night, Pelosi confirmed that “a violent man broke into our family home, demanded to confront me and brutally attacked my husband Paul.”

“Our children, our grandchildren and I are heartbroken and traumatized by the life-threatening attack on our Pop,” she wrote.

At a campaign event last week, President Biden called on the crowd to “clearly and unambiguously” stand up against political violence, while suggesting that Pelosi’s alleged attacker was influenced by Republicans’ inflammatory rhetoric.

“What makes us think one party can talk about stolen elections, covid being a hoax, [that it’s] all a bunch of lies, and it not affect people who may not be so well balanced?” Biden said then. “What makes us think that it’s not going to alter the political climate? Enough is enough is enough.”

Former secretary of state and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addressed the partisan divide on the attack in an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday.

“This midterm election we’ve seen a lot of ads by Republicans running for everything touting crime. Crime is the issue. But when an 82-year-old man is attacked by an intruder in his own home, they don’t seem to be too bothered by that,” she said.

Federal authorities on Monday filed attempted kidnapping and assault charges against David Wayne DePape, 42, the alleged home invader. According to charging documents, DePape told authorities after his arrest that he had planned to “hold Nancy hostage” and break her kneecaps to send a message to other Democrats.

The Washington Post confirmed that a blog written under DePape’s name was filled with antisemitic writings and baseless claims as well as pro-Trump and anti-Democratic posts. It was registered to a house in Richmond, Calif., where DePape lives, according to neighbors.

But that has not stopped DePape’s arrest from becoming the center of more right-wing misinformation and conspiracy theories promoted by allies of former president Donald Trump and even Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter. Trump himself called the attack “a terrible thing” in an interview Sunday.

Trump’s eldest son has made several social media posts making light of the incident, including retweeting a picture of a hammer atop a pair of underwear with the message, “Got my Paul Pelosi Halloween costume ready.”

“The internet remains undefeated,” Donald Trump Jr. added.

Devlin Barrett, Eugene Scott, Holly Bailey and Laurie McGinley contributed to this report.

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