Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Thursday repeated an accusation that her Republican colleague Ted Yoho used a profane gender-based slur towards her earlier this week in an interaction on the Capitol steps.
“In front of reporters, Representative Yoho called me, and I quote, ‘a f**king b**ch,’” she said on the House floor. “These are the words that Representative Yoho levied against a Congresswoman.”
Mr Yoho has not admitted or denied using the phrase but on Wednesday he denied directing that phrase toward Ms Ocasio-Cortez. He said he nevertheless apologised for the “abrupt manner of the conversation.”
“Having been married for 45 years with two daughters, I’m very cognisant of my language. Offensive name-calling words attributed to me by the press were never spoken to my colleague, and if they were construed that way, I apologise for their misunderstanding. I cannot apologise for my passion, for loving my God, my family and my country,” he said on the House floor.
Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s comments were the latest in an escalating feud that started on Monday, when The Hill newspaper said that one of its reporters overheard Mr Yoho’s comments. According to the newspaper, Mr Yoho had a brief exchange with Ms Ocasio-Cortez in which he called her “disgusting” for previously suggesting that unemployment and poverty due to the Covid-19 pandemic is leading to a spike in crime in New York City. Mr Yoho told her she was out of her “freaking mind,” the paper reported, and walked off with Republican Texas Congressman Roger Williams. As they parted ways, the newspaper said Mr Yoho uttered the slur.
Ms Ocasio-Cortez suggested on Thursday that his actions demonstrate to the world how powerful men can be verbally aggressive towards women. “You can have daughters and accost women without remorse,” she said. “You can be married, and accost women.”
Ms Ocasio-Cortez took to the House floor to read into the Congressional Record the comment that she said Mr Yoho had used to refer to her. “In front of reporters, Representative Yoho called me, and I quote: ‘A f**king b**ch’. These are the words Representative Yoho levied against a congresswoman. It happens every day in this country,” Ms Ocasio-Cortez said. “It happened here on the steps of our nation’s Capitol.” And then, in an unmistakable shot at US president Donald Trump, she added, “It happens when individuals who hold the highest office in this land admit to hurting women and using this language against all of us.”
Ms Ocasio-Cortez began by saying that she would have been willing to let the incident pass until she heard what Mr Yoho called an apology. Mr Yoho offered some words of contrition Wednesday for the episode, but he declined to apologise to Ms Ocasio-Cortez for his language, denying that he had used the phrase and arguing that his passion stemmed from his concern about poverty.
But Ocasio-Cortez had had enough. “That I could not let go,” she said in her speech Thursday. “Mr Yoho mentioned that he has a wife and two daughters,” she said. “I am two years younger than Mr Yoho’s youngest daughter. I am someone’s daughter, too. My father, thankfully, is not alive to see how Mr Yoho treated his daughter. My mother got to see Mr Yoho’s disrespect on the floor of the House toward me on television, and I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter, and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.”
Ms Ocasio-Cortez invited a group of Democratic women in the House to come forward to express solidarity with her. One by one, they shared their own stories of harassment and mistreatment by men, including in Congress.
Pramila Jayapal recounted how a male Republican lawmaker had once lashed out at her during a debate on the House floor, sternly calling Ms Jayapal (54) a "young lady" and saying that she did not "know a damn thing" about what she was talking about.
Ms Jayapal did not name the lawmaker, but she was referring to Republican Don Young whose insults of Jayapal were captured on video in a 2017 incident that was widely reported at the time.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, recounted her own experiences as a "20-something lawmaker" in Florida's Statehouse and again as a member of Congress in her 30s. "Few women here watching have not felt a man's bullying breath or menacing finger in our face as we were told exactly where our place was at work," Ms Wasserman Schultz said.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the most powerful woman in Washington, offered her own account: "I can tell you this firsthand, they called me names for at least 20 years of leadership. You'd say to them, 'Do you not have a daughter? Do you not have a mother? Do you not have a sister? Do you not have a wife?' What makes you think you can be so ? and this is the word I use for them, 'condescending'".
By Thursday afternoon, a video that Ms Ocasio-Cortez shared on Twitter of her floor speech had been viewed over 6 million times.–New York Times and Reuters