Election 2020

Ryan: Gianforte Incident Not 'Acceptable Behavior,' But Choice Up to Montana

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) conducts his weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitors Center on May 25, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters today that he doesn’t condone violence and Greg Gianforte should apologize for slamming and punching a Guardian reporter at a campaign event, but stressed that he’ll respect Montana voters’ choice if they choose the GOP candidate in today’s special election.

Gianforte, a software company founder and donor to conservative organizations who lost a race for the governor’s mansion last year, faces singer-songwriter Democrat Rob Quist to fill the state’s at-large congressional seat vacated by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. About a third of ballots were cast in advance.

Gianforte was cited for misdemeanor assault after Ben Jacobs, political reporter for the Guardian, was asking a question about the American Health Care Act and the candidate reacted angrily. A Fox News team preparing to interview Gianforte confirmed the attack: “Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” reporter Alicia Acuna said. “Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of ‘I’m sick and tired of this!’… To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.”

Gianforte is supposed to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court on the assault charge before June 7.

At his weekly press conference, Ryan said “there’s never a call for physical altercations.”

“There is no time where a physical altercation should occur with the press or with — just between human beings. So that is wrong and it should not have happened,” he said. “Should the gentleman apologize? Yeah, I think he should apologize. I know he has his own version and I’m sure he’s going to have more to say, but there’s no call for this no matter what under any circumstance.”

“The people of the state of Montana are going to decide today who they will send to Congress,” Ryan added. “…The choice will be made by the people of Montana. I do not think this is acceptable behavior, but the choice will be made by the people of Montana.”

At her own press conference, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said it’s “up to the Republicans” whether they allow Gianforte to conference with them, should he win.

“The people of the state will make a determination as to who will represent them in Congress,” she said. “But I’m — you know, I viewed that as a mom and a grandmother. You know, we try to have some level of dignity as to how we treat people and who we are, the behavior we expect from our own families. And to see this person who wants to be the one representative into the House of Representatives from Montana be sort of a wannabe Trump, you know, use language like that, treat people harshly like that, that’s his model. Donald Trump’s his model. And we’ve really got to say, ‘come on, behave — behave.’ That was outrageous.”

“I hope it would be up to the people of Montana to demand a higher standard of behavior for the children — for the sake of our children,” Pelosi added. “What do you — how do you explain that to children? You ask a question, I’m going to strangle you? I mean, really.”