The No. 2 House Democrat demanded that Florida Rep. Ted Yoho, one of the House's most conservative members, apologize to Ocasio-Cortez, one of the House's most progressive, over Monday's confrontation. A spokesperson for Yoho denied that the lawmaker had used a sexist slur, saying the Florida congressman had instead muttered “bull——” to himself to describe Ocasio-Cortez’s policies.
There was little sign that Yoho’s GOP colleagues were rising to defend him, and the House minority leader said he would speak to Yoho. “We think everyone should show respect to one another,” Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters about the episode, which occurred during an election year in which partisan divisions have been rubbed raw.
In a tweet Tuesday, Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said she had never spoken to Yoho “before he decided to accost me” as they passed each other on the Capitol's outdoor steps during a vote. "Believe it or not, I usually get along fine w/ my GOP colleagues. We know how to check our legislative sparring at the committee door. But hey, ‘b(asterisk)tches’ get stuff done,” she wrote, using one of the words Yoho reportedly used.
A reporter for The Hill newspaper witnessed the encounter, the newspaper said. According to the news outlet, Yoho approached Ocasio-Cortez and said her recent comments connecting poverty to a crime surge in New York City during the coronavirus pandemic were “disgusting.”
“You are out of your freaking mind,” Yoho added. Ocasio-Cortez told Yoho he was being “rude,” the article said. The Hill said as the two headed in opposite directions, Yoho uttered the sexist comment “to no one in particular.”
Walking with Yoho was Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, another conservative. Heather Douglass, Williams' spokesperson, said he didn't hear the exchange and "would have immediately condemned that type of language towards any colleague.”
Ocasio-Cortez fired back, saying Williams was lying about not hearing the conversation and had even participated in it, making his own remark about “throwing urine.” “When he undeniably sees another man engaged in virulent harassment of a young woman, just pretend you never saw it in the most cartoonish manner possible," she wrote.
Yoho, 65, is a member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus and a foe of GOP leaders he's considered too moderate like former Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. He's retiring when his term ends in January.
Ocasio-Cortez, 30, is a high-profile first-term congresswoman whose vociferous support for proposals like the Green New Deal has won her appearances in GOP campaign ads casting her as a liberal villain.
Yoho spokesperson Brian Kaveney said in an email Tuesday that Yoho “had a brief member to member conversation” and had not called Ocasio-Cortez a name. He wrote that Yoho said “bull——” to himself, “summarizing what he believes her policies to be.”
“It is unfortunate that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is using this exchange to gain personal attention,” said Kaveny. Kaveny did not immediately respond to a follow-up email asking if Yoho would apologize. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Yoho's comments were “despicable and unacceptable" and require an apology on the House floor. By late afternoon Tuesday, there was no indication whether that would occur.
“It was the act of a bully, of a person who is the antithesis of the person we are honoring this week, John Lewis,” said Hoyer, referring to the Georgia Democrat and civil rights hero who died Friday. He said Yoho’s action was “despicable conduct and it needs to be sanctioned.″
Other congressional Democrats swarmed to Ocasio-Cortez's defense on Twitter. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., who, like Ocasio-Cortez, is a member of the “Squad" of first-term congresswomen of color, wrote that Yoho had “perpetuated" the problem of violence against women with his "sexist verbal attack."
Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., tweeted that he, too, believes poverty can cause crime and said, “Wonder why Rep. Yoho hasn’t accosted me on the Capitol steps with the same sentiment?”
Associated Press writers Matthew Daly and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report.