MISSOULA, Mont. — President Donald Trump praised Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., Thursday for physically assaulting a reporter during a House race last year — remarks that come amid calls for Trump to hold Saudi Arabia responsible for the disappearance and apparent killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
"Never wrestle him," Trump said of Gianforte at a campaign rally in an airplane hangar here. "Any guy who can do a body slam, that's my guy."
Gianforte pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault last year after he laid hands on Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian, and was sentenced to 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger-management counseling and payment of a $385 fine. As part of a civil settlement, he apologized for responding with physical violence to a question Jacobs asked about health care policy.
Cheered on by the crowd, Trump added that he didn't think the episode would hurt Gianforte with Montana voters — "I think it might help him," Trump recalled thinking. "And it did."
Trump went back to the theme later in his remarks, as he mused that he could beat up former Vice President Joe Biden — who he referred to as "Sleepy Joe."
Earlier this year, Biden, who is considering a 2020 presidential bid, said he would have "beat the hell" out of Trump when they were younger.
Trump said he could take Biden — and in quicker fashion than Gianforte assaulted Jacobs.
"He'd be down faster than Greg would take him down," Trump said of the former vice president.
Trump's comments also came against the backdrop of his argument that the political left is fomenting mobs.
"Democrats produce mobs, Republicans produce jobs," he said at one point.
Trump was here, in one of the state's few liberal bastions, to campaign for Republican Senate nominee Matt Rosendale, who is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.