In a speech on the House floor Thursday morning, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez denounced Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., prolonging a heated public spat that began on Monday with a confrontation on the Capitol steps.
Ocasio-Cortez, the high-profile New York Democrat, elevated the argument from the merely personal to a question of institutional and societal sexism, saying the slur allegedly used by Yoho represented “a pattern of an attitude toward women and dehumanization of others.”
The freshman Democrat, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, began her speech by describing their encounter, which she recounted in an exclusive interview with Yahoo News Tuesday.
Ocasio-Cortez said she was walking up the steps of the Capitol when Yoho, who was walking with Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, “suddenly turned a corner” and “accosted me.”
Neither has specified what the disagreement was about, but from remarks Yoho made later, it appears he took exception to comments by the New Yorker at a virtual town hall in which she said “economic desperation” is partly to blame for the recent increase in crime in New York City. Her comments were featured prominently on Fox News and other conservative outlets, which treated them as simplistic and ill-informed.
“Rep. Yoho put his finger in my face,” she recalled. “He called me disgusting. He called me crazy. He called me out of my mind. And he called me dangerous. And then he took a few more steps, and after I had recognized his comments as rude, he walked away and said, ‘I’m rude? You’re calling me rude?’”
“I took a few steps ahead and walked inside and cast my vote,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I walked back out, and there were reporters in front of the Capitol. And in front of reporters, Rep. Yoho called me, and I quote, a ‘f***ing bitch.’ These are the words Rep. Yoho levied against a congresswoman, the congresswoman who not only represents New York’s 14th Congressional District but every congresswoman and every woman in this country, because all of us have had to deal with this in some form, some way, some shape, at some point in our lives.”
Yoho has denied using those words. On Wednesday he apologized to the chamber for the “abrupt manner” in which he confronted Ocasio-Cortez on the steps of the Capitol.
“I want to be clear that Rep. Yoho’s comments were not deeply hurtful or piercing, because I have worked a working-class job,” said Ocasio-Cortez, who was a bartender before she won her U.S. House seat in 2018. “I have waited tables in restaurants. I have ridden the subway. I have walked the streets in New York City. And this kind of language is not new. I have encountered words uttered by Mr. Yoho and men uttering the same words as Mr. Yoho while I was being harassed in restaurants. I have tossed men out of bars that have used language like Mr. Yoho’s, and I have encountered this type of harassment riding the subway in New York City.”
“This is not new, and that is the problem,” she said. “This is a pattern of an attitude toward women and dehumanization of others.”
Ocasio-Cortez was given an hour to address what she called “a point of personal privilege.” She used about 10 minutes of that time, yielding the rest to several lawmakers who made short speeches in support of her.
“That was brilliance, grace, intelligence and complete dedication to what justice, equality and dignity in the United States looks like,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said. “What my colleague from Florida did was unacceptable, it was violent, it was sexist, and I do believe he needs to apologize.”
In his speech addressing the incident on the House floor Tuesday, Yoho did not personally apologize to Ocasio-Cortez.
“Having been married for 45 years with two daughters, I’m very cognizant of my language,” he said. “The offensive, name-calling words attributed to me by the press were never spoken to my colleagues, and if they were construed that way, I apologize for misunderstanding.”
Ocasio-Cortez accused Yoho of making excuses for his behavior and using the women in his life as “shields.”
“I could not allow that to stand,” she said. “I could not allow my nieces, I could not allow the little girls I go home to, I could not allow victims of verbal abuse and worse to see that, to see that excuse, and to see our Congress accept it as legitimate.”
“I am two years younger than Mr. Yoho’s youngest daughter,” the 30-year-old lawmaker continued. “I am someone’s daughter too. My father, thankfully, is not alive to see how Mr. Yoho treated his daughter.
“Having a daughter does not make a man decent,” she said. “Having a wife does not make a decent man.”
“I do not need Rep. Yoho to apologize to me,” Ocasio-Cortez added. “Clearly he does not want to. Clearly, when given the opportunity, he will not. And I will not stay up late at night waiting for an apology from a man who has no remorse over calling women and using abusive language toward women.”
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