President Joe Biden on Friday called an attack on the husband of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "despicable" and denounced those who spread lies about stolen elections for corroding the political climate and contributing to politically motivated violence.
An intruder attacked and severely beat Paul Pelosi with a hammer in the couple's San Francisco home early Friday while searching for the Democratic leader and chillingly shouting: “Where is Nancy, where is Nancy?”
The 82-year-old was taken to hospital and underwent surgery for a skull fracture and injuries to his right arm and hands, a spokesperson for the House speaker said in a statement, adding that doctors expect him to make a full recovery.
"Enough is enough is enough," Biden told supporters at a rally in Philadelphia. "Every person of good conscience needs to clearly and unambiguously stand up against the violence in our politics, regardless of what your politics are."
The attack came under two weeks before the US midterm elections. "Democracy is literally, not figuratively, on the ballot this year," said Biden, who has previously warned about the dangers of extremism.
The president noted that the hammer-wielding assailant used the same chant — "Where's Nancy" — heard from supporters of Donald Trump when they stormed the Capitol on 6 January 2021, in riots that Nancy Pelosi accused the defeated president of inciting.
'Where's Nancy?': unsettling echo of Capitol riots
Police were called to the home to check on Paul Pelosi at about 2:30am (11:30 CET) when they discovered him and the suspect, named as 42-year-old David Depape, both grabbing onto the hammer, said Police Chief William Scott. The intruder yanked it from Pelosi and began beating him before being subdued and arrested by officers.
Pelosi was severely beaten, suffering blunt force trauma after he was struck several times in the head. He was admitted to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was in Washington at the time of the attack, where she had been scheduled to appear with Vice President Kamala Harris at a fundraising event on Saturday night for the LGBTQ group Human Rights Campaign, 11 days before congressional elections that have been filled with harsh, sometimes violent rhetoric. Pelosi canceled her appearance.
The intruder's shouts in Pelosi's California home were an unsettling echo of the chants during the 6 January 2021 insurrection at the Capitol in Washington DC, when rioters trying to stop Joe Biden’s election searched menacingly through the halls for the speaker.
Police said a motive for Friday's intrusion was still being determined, but three people with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press that Depape targeted Pelosi's home. Those people were not authorised to talk publicly about an ongoing probe and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Police gave few details on the suspect or his motives. But the attack raised questions about the safety of members of Congress and their families. Threats to lawmakers are at an all-time high almost two years after the Capitol insurrection. In the current midterm election campaigns, crime and public safety have emerged as top concerns among Americans.
Thousands of threats each year against US politicians
Politicians from both Democratic and Republican parties reacted with shock and expressed their well wishes to the Pelosi family.
“What happened to Paul Pelosi was a dastardly act,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York.
“I spoke with Speaker Pelosi earlier this morning and conveyed my deepest concern and heartfelt wishes to her husband and their family, and I wish him a speedy recovery.”
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on Twitter, “Horrified and disgusted by the reports that Paul Pelosi was assaulted in his and Speaker Pelosi’s home last night. Grateful to hear that Paul is on track to make a full recovery and that law enforcement including our stellar Capitol Police are on the case.”
In 2021, Capitol Police investigated around 9,600 threats made against members of Congress, and several members have been physically attacked in recent years. Former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona, was shot in the head at an event outside a Tucson grocery store in 2011; while Representative Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana, was severely injured when a gunman opened fire on a Republican congressional baseball team practice in 2017.
Members of Congress have received additional funding for security at their homes, but some have pushed for yet more protection as people have shown up at their homes and as members have received an increasing number of threatening communications.
Nancy Pelosi, who is second in line of succession to the president, has a protective detail that was in Washington with her. She’d just returned this week from a security conference in Europe.
Often at Nancy Pelosi’s side during formal events in Washington, Paul Pelosi is a wealthy investor who largely remains on the West Coast. The couple have five adult children and many grandchildren. They have been married 59 years.
Earlier this year, Paul Pelosi pleaded guilty to misdemeanor driving under the influence charges related to a May crash in California’s wine country and was sentenced to five days in jail and three years of probation.