The biggest legislative fight in Congress right now is over health-care policy. And yet, the night before Montana’s special congressional election, the Republican candidate still hadn’t told voters whether he supported the president’s health-care bill — Greg Gianforte had insisted that he could not take a position on the legislation without seeing the Congressional Budget Office’s report on its effects.
So, when the CBO released that report Wednesday afternoon, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs asked Gianforte if he could (finally) inform the electorate of his plans for their health-care system. Gianforte refused. Jacobs persisted.
And then, the Republican candidate grabbed Jacobs, slammed him to the ground, and began punching the reporter while yelling, “I’m sick and tired of you guys” — according to Jacobs, an audio recording of the incident, and multiple eyewitnesses from a Fox News crew.
The Republican candidate then released a statement claiming that he had asked Jacobs to lower his recorder, before Jacobs grabbed his wrist and pulled both of them to the ground.
The audio recording establishes that Gianforte never asked Jacobs to lower his recorder. Eyewitnesses — and the laws of physics — contradict Gianforte’s claim that a smaller man threw him to the ground by his wrist.
On the strength of this evidence, Montana police charged Gianforte with misdemeanor assault early Thursday morning.
So, to review: A Republican candidate for Congress responded to a question about his health-care views by battering a reporter and then shamelessly lying to the public about what he had done.
On Thursday, Republicans on Capitol Hill expressed mild opposition to this behavior — while assuring Gianforte that he would still be a welcome member of a caucus that touts its devotion to liberty, truth, and law and order.
Paul Ryan called Gianforte’s actions unacceptable and said that the candidate should apologize. But “if he wins, he has been chosen by the people of Montana, who their congressman’s going to be,” the House speaker continued. “I’m going to let the people of Montana decide who they want as their representative.”
Like most things Paul Ryan says into microphones, this was patently disingenuous: Montana allows for early voting and, by some estimates, two-thirds of the vote was cast before news of Gianforte’s alleged assault became public.
Still, Ryan’s response was preferable to Duncan Hunter’s.
Or Mark Sanford’s.
Congressman Trent Franks chose to put Gianforte’s actions in context, telling MSNBC, “The left has precipitated this tense, confrontational, approach throughout the country in recent months.”
By this, Franks was ostensibly referring to the fact that his party’s attempt to finance a large tax cut for the rich by throwing millions of poor people off their health insurance had inspired nonviolent protests.
The congressman did, eventually, stipulate that he rejects “any kind of thing where we use physical violence in a situation like that.”
Republican congressman Steve Stivers, the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said, “this was totally out of character” for Gianforte, and “we all make mistakes.”
Of course, “body slamming a journalist because he asked about a bill I don’t want to talk about” is not a mistake “we all make.”
What’s more, is it not, in fact, “totally out of character” for Gianforte to display contempt for freedom of the press.
New Jersey Republican Leonard Lance said that he “believe[s] that we should all treat the press with respect,” but was nonetheless hoping that Gianforte “is successful today, because I think that his views are the views of the people of Montana.”
To his credit, Montana’s Republican senator Steve Daines called on Gianforte to apologize.
The response from many right-wing “journalists” was decidedly more loathsome.
Thank God we have these patriots to keep our media fair and balanced, and the state of our union strong.