Speaker Paul Ryan urged Greg Gianforte, the Republican nominee in Montana’s House special election, to apologize for his apparent assault of a reporter.
“Let me just say, physical altercations, there’s never a call for physical altercations. There’s no time where a physical altercation should occur with the press or with human beings,” Ryan said at a Thursday press conference. “Should the gentleman apologize? Yeah, I think he should apologize. … There’s no call for this no matter what, under any circumstance.”
But Ryan declined to call for Gianforte to withdraw and made no indication that the Montanan would be excluded from the House Republican conference if he prevails in Thursday’s race.
“If he wins, he has been chosen by the people of Montana, who their congressman’s going to be,” Ryan said.
Rep. Steve Stivers, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, also signaled the party remained behind him.
“From what I know of Greg Gianforte, this was totally out of character for him, but we all make mistakes,” the Ohio Republican said. “Today’s special election is bigger than any one person, it’s about the views of all Montanans. They deserve to have their voices heard in Washington.”
Gianforte has been engulfed in controversy since Wednesday night when, on the eve of the election, he allegedly grabbed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs around the neck and slammed him to the ground. Gianforte’s campaign disputed Jacobs’ account and accused him of being “aggressive,” but audio recording of the incident, as well as the eyewitness accounts, undercut the campaign’s version of events.
House Republicans were largely silent on the incident Thursday morning, saying they had yet to see the facts. But a sense of foreboding had crept in around a race that once seemed a safe bet for Republicans.
"I don’t think anybody thinks he’s going to win,” one GOP lawmaker said at the Capitol.