RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) drew heavy criticism from Democrats on Friday for a comment seen as making light of the violent attack earlier that day on the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Condemnation on social media was swift.
“This is a disgusting, vile, and crass comment by Governor Youngkin,” Rep. Donald A. McEachin (D-Va.) tweeted. “While Paul Pelosi is currently undergoing brain surgery, Glenn Youngkin takes it as an opportunity for political jabs. This reprehensible behavior is beneath the dignity of his office.”
Paul Pelosi was injured Friday morning at the couple’s home in San Francisco when an intruder broke in shouting, “Where is Nancy?” and struck him with a hammer. While some initial media reports said Pelosi underwent brain surgery after the attack, it was later determined he had surgery to repair a skull fracture and injuries to his arm and hands.
A Youngkin representative did not seem to back down from his comment: “As the governor clearly said, the assault on Paul Pelosi was wrong and there is no place for violence,” spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said in a text message after the rally. “He wishes him a full recovery and is keeping the Pelosi family in his prayers.”
Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), who is being challenged by Vega for her 7th District seat, called on Youngkin to apologize.
“A father, grandfather, and husband is in brain surgery after an act of heinous political violence and at a political rally for my opponent, our Governor taunts his wife because he disagrees with her politics?” Spanberger wrote on Twitter. “I hope he’ll apologize and show humanity towards the Pelosi family.”
The flap is the latest example of Youngkin’s carefully scripted mainstream image clashing with his efforts to throw red meat to the Trump base of the Republican Party. Youngkin’s victory last year in a seemingly blue Virginia has nurtured rumors of presidential ambition and made him in-demand on the campaign trail around the country as a paragon of how Republicans might strike a balance to woo moderate voters.
But Youngkin has struggled to keep that balance as he shared the stage with the likes of Maine GOP gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage, who has a record of racially insensitive remarks, and Kari Lake of Arizona, whose campaign for governor of that state has strongly embraced Trump and recycled lies about the 2020 election being “stolen.”
Vega also poses a challenge to Youngkin’s centrist pose. The Prince William County supervisor campaigned with Youngkin and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) earlier this week in a fiery rally and drew an endorsement from Trump on Thursday night.
A spokesman for Vega’s campaign said he did not take Youngkin’s words about the Pelosi attack as dismissive or flippant. “I think he was sincere in not wishing violence on anyone,” spokesman Sean Brown said. “We hope for a speedy recovery and [are] praying for [Pelosi],” Brown said, and added that “the people of the 7th are going to roundly reject the policies of Speaker Pelosi and Joe Biden.”
Youngkin also spoke about Pelosi at his rally with Vega and Cruz earlier in the week. “This red wave that’s sweeping across the commonwealth again … Yesli Vega’s gonna get her surfboard, she’s gonna surf right into Washington and she’s going to bring a plane ticket with her, hand it to Nancy Pelosi and send her right back to California,” Youngkin said at that event.
Cruz struck a harsher tone, saying that Pelosi would ride her broom back to California.
The race between Vega and Spanberger is one of the most competitive in Virginia, if not the nation — the nonpartisan Cook Political Report has rated it a toss-up heading into the final leg of the campaign.
The contest has drawn millions of dollars in spending from outside groups and national Republicans seeking to oust Spanberger on their way to retaking control of the House, with messaging on abortion and the state of the economy dominating the airwaves.
One of Republicans’ main lines of attack: seeking to relentlessly tie Spanberger to Pelosi. Political ads note she has voted with the speaker “100 percent of the time” so often it is somewhat of a mantra for Republicans.
Vega kept it up during Friday’s rally as well. “I’m gonna say this until November 8: Abigail Spanberger has voted with Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi 100 percent of the time!”
Spanberger has not supported Pelosi for House speaker, and in fact this month called for new House Democratic leadership over Pelosi’s handling of legislation to ban stock-trading, a key priority for Spanberger this year.
Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares (R) tweeted later Friday that “violence has no place in our political discourse or society, and anyone who does so is a coward who should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
But Democratic members of the General Assembly vented outrage at Youngkin.
“So Christian Youngkin thinks it is okay to make a remark about sending Speaker Pelosi home to California in the context of her husband being violently attacked? Not okay, not political satire or fodder for your ridiculous speech,” tweeted Sen. Mamie E. Locke (D-Hampton).
“This man is 82 years old and undergoing surgery,” House Minority Leader Don L. Scott Jr. (D-Portsmouth) said in an interview. “For [Youngkin] to joke about that tells you a lot about who he is.”