Scalise: Trump was 'clearly ribbing' Gianforte with remarks on body-slamming reporter

Scalise: Trump was 'clearly ribbing' Gianforte with remarks on body-slamming reporter
© Greg Nash

House Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseThe Memo: Fears of violence grow amid Trump race storm Democrats call for increased security after 'send her back' chants Democratic strategist on Trump tweets: 'He's feeding this fear and hate' MORE (R-La.) on Friday defended President TrumpDonald John TrumpLiz Cheney: 'Send her back' chant 'inappropriate' but not about race, gender Booker: Trump is 'worse than a racist' Top Democrat insists country hasn't moved on from Mueller MORE's remarks the night before at a Montana rally implying that Rep. Greg GianforteGregory Richard GianforteTrump declares Gorka 'wins big' after clash with reporters in Rose Garden Republican who lost Montana Senate bid to run for House next year Gianforte files to run for Montana governor MORE (R-Mont.) assaulting a Guardian reporter in 2017 helped him win his election.

Scalise tweeted that the Trump was "clearly ribbing" Gianforte for the incident, and that it was "obvious he was not encouraging his supporters to engage in attacks" noting that "not one person harassed the numerous media reporters who were present."

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Gianforte pleaded guilty to assaulting a reporter for the U.K. paper the night before his special congressional election. He was sentenced to a 180-day deferred sentence, 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management and a $300 fine.

“We endorsed Greg really early, but I heard that he had body-slammed a reporter. And he was way up … and I said, ‘Oh, this is terrible, he’s going to lose the election.’ But then I said, ‘Well, wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him,’ and it did … He’s a great guy and a tough cookie,” Trump said at the campaign event in Missoula.

Since being shot at a Republican baseball practice last year, Scalise has consistently called out violent rhetoric in politics, but argued that this instance was more Trump joking than an endorsement of violence.

Others did not think Trump's jab was so harmless.

Literary and human rights organization PEN America blasted the president's comments Friday, saying that "Trump’s remarks are a chilling reminder that US global leadership on press freedom has collapsed utterly under the President’s watch."

And the White House Correspondents’ Association said that "All Americans should recoil from the president's praise for a violent assault on a reporter doing his Constitutionally protected job."

British Prime Minster Theresa May's office also commented that Trump "obviously made comments at a political rally and those are for him but more generally we would always say that violence or intimidation against a journalist is completely unacceptable."