Some Democratic lawmakers are calling on House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy to resign after he said over the weekend it would be "hard not to hit" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with the speaker’s gavel he hopes to win if Republicans take back the House chamber in next year's midterm elections.
"I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel. It will be hard not to hit her with it," McCarthy said at a GOP fundraiser in Nashville Saturday, after Tennessee’s Republican members of Congress gifted him with an oversized gavel.
McCarthy's comment was met by laughter among the audience of 1,400, according to audio posted to Twitter by a Main Street Nashville reporter and not disputed by McCarthy's office.
It comes nearly seven months after the attack on Jan 6. when a pro-Trump mob invaded the Capitol with some rioters taunting, "Where's Nancy?" while they scouted her out, and one man, armed with a taser, kicked up his feet on a desk in her office.
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill responded on Twitter Saturday, saying "a threat of violence to someone who was a target of a #January6th assassination attempt from your fellow Trump supporters is irresponsible and disgusting."
While McCarthy's office hasn't commented publicly on the growing backlash to his comments, an aide to McCarthy said "he was obviously joking" without commenting further.
The speaker herself has not weighed in.
But some of her Democratic colleagues have rushed to her defense with California Reps. Eric Swalwell and Ted Lieu calling on McCarthy to resign.
"America has suffered enough violence around politics. @GOPLeader McCarthy is now a would-be assailant of @SpeakerPelosi," Swalwell wrote on Twitter.
Lieu posed a question to McCarthy: "Don’t you think America has had enough political violence?"
"You should never be encouraging or threatening or joking about causing violence to anyone, including the Speaker of the House. You need to apologize for your statement, or resign," he said.
Other Democrats have put pressure on McCarthy to apologize. Republicans have largely stayed silent.
"Violence against women is no laughing matter," New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the No. 5 House Democrat, said on Twitter.
Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., a former police chief who is challenging GOP Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for his Senate seat, also weighed in.
"Speaker Pelosi used her courage and moral compass to lead us to pass the Violence Against Woman Act. Kevin McCarthy thinks joking about hitting a woman is funny. When someone shows you who they are, believe them," she said.
Some activists on Twitter -- amplifying the hashtag "#ResignMcCarthy" over the weekend -- raised how the GOP leader voted against the reapproval of the Violence Against Women Act in April 2019.
His comment and its backlash come after weeks of growing bitterness between lawmakers in Washington on issues such as mask mandates order by the Capitol physician and how to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the building they work inside.
ABC News' Katherine Faulders and Benjamin Siegel contributed to this report.