Anger as top US Republican jokes about hitting Pelosi

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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 January 6 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.

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