Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s outrage over a Republican legislator’s verbal assault broadened into an extraordinary moment in the United States House of Representatives on Thursday as she and other Democrats assailed a sexist culture of “accepting violence and violent language against women” whose adherents include President Donald Trump.
A day after rejecting an offer of contrition from Representative Ted Yoho, a Republican from Florida, for his language during this week’s confrontation on the Capitol steps, Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues cast the incident as all-too-common behaviour by men, including Trump and other Republicans.
“This issue is not about one incident,” said Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York City.
“It is cultural. It is a culture of lack of impunity, of accepting violence and violent language against women, an entire structure of power that supports that,” she said.
The remarkable outpouring, with several female legislators saying they had routinely encountered such treatment during recent years, came in an election year in which polls show women lean decisively against Trump, who has a history of mocking women. Trump was captured in a 2005 audio recording boasting about physically abusing them, and his disparagement of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has included calling her “crazy”.
Rep @AOC: “I do not need Rep. Yoho to apologize to me. Clearly he does not want to. Clearly when given the opportunity he will not & I will not stay up late at night waiting for an apology from a man who has no remorse over calling women & using abusive language towards women.” pic.twitter.com/XKymFh3Oyf
— CSPAN (@cspan) July 23, 2020
Representative Barbara Lee, a Democrat, said she had experienced “a lifetime of insults, racism and sexism”.
Pelosi weighed in at a separate news conference.
“It’s a manifestation of attitude in our society, really. I can tell you that first-hand, they’ve called me names for at least 20 years of leadership,” Pelosi said of Republicans.
“Do you not have a daughter, do you not have a mother, do you not have a sister, do you not have a wife?” Pelosi said.
“What makes you think that you can be so, and this is the word I use for them, condescending, in addition to being disrespectful,” she said.
In an encounter on Monday witnessed by a reporter from The Hill newspaper, Yoho berated Ocasio-Cortez on the House steps for saying that some of the increased crime in New York during the coronavirus pandemic could be traced to rising unemployment and poverty.
Representative Ted Yoho, a Republican, (right), offered an apology for angrily accosting Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat, (left), but denied using a sexist slur [File: AP Photos]
Ocasio-Cortez, a freshman who has made her mark as one of Congress’s most outspoken progressives, on the House floor on Thursday described the incident. She said Yoho, one of the House’s most conservative members, put his finger in her face and called her disgusting, crazy and dangerous.
She also told the House that in front of reporters, he called her, “and I quote, a f***ing b***h”.
According to The Hill, Yoho was coming down the steps on the east side of the Capitol on Monday, having just voted, when he approached Ocasio-Cortez, who was ascending into the building to cast a vote of her own.
In a brief but heated exchange, overheard by a reporter, Yoho told Ocasio-Cortez she was “disgusting” for suggesting that poverty and unemployment were driving a spike in crime in New York City during the coronavirus pandemic.
“You are out of your freaking mind,” Yoho told her.
Ocasio-Cortez shot back, telling Yoho he was being “rude”.
The two then parted ways, according to The Hill. Ocasio-Cortez headed into the building, while Yoho began descending toward the House office buildings. A few steps down, Yoho offered a parting thought to no one in particular.
“F***ing b***h,” he said, The Hill reported.
Yoho took to the House floor on Wednesday to offer an apology for the “abrupt manner of the conversation” but denied using a vulgarity to describe her.
Ocasio-Cortez said Yoho’s apology was insincere. Yoho’s references to his wife and daughters as he explained his actions during brief remarks on Wednesday actually underscored the problem, she said.
“I want to thank him for showing the world that you can be a powerful man and accost women,” she said. “You can have daughters and accost women without remorse. You can be married and accost women.”
More than a dozen other Democrats spoke, mostly women, in remarks that included taunts of House Republicans’ overwhelmingly white male membership and warnings that the numbers of women legislators will only grow, the Associated Press news service reported.
“We’re not going away,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat.
“There is going to be more power in the hands of women across this country,” she said.