WASHINGTON (CN) — A congressman’s crass confrontation of fellow Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez this week prompted a stream of supporters to take to the House floor Thursday and rebuke inequities and misogyny that plague women on the highest rungs of power.
“I am two years younger than Mr. Yoho’s youngest daughter. I am someone’s daughter too,” the 30-year-old New York Democrat said. “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 this House towards me on television. And I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter and they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.”
As witnessed Monday by a reporter for The Hill and others, Ocasio-Cortez had been climbing the Capitol steps when Republican Representative Ted Yoho of Florida stopped her to complain about her recent suggestion that poverty and unemployment have contributed to New York City’s recent crime surge.
When the congressman called her “disgusting” and that she was “out of your freaking mind,” Ocasio-Cortez shot back that Yoho was being “rude.”
“Fucking bitch,” Yoho said in conclusion, as he walked off with Texas Congressman Roger Williams.
Yoho later offered an apology for what he termed an “abrupt manner,” but denied that he used any of the “offensive name-calling words attributed to me by the press.”
“And if they were construed that way, I apologize for their misunderstanding,” Yoho said in a speech at the chamber, where he mentioned that he is “very cognizant of his language” as a husband of 45 years with two daughters.
Shrugging off the deflection Thursday, Ocasio-Cortez said she is not looking for Yoho to apologize: She has suffered insults and offensive language before, whether riding the New York City subways or working as a bartender in the Bronx.
More notable to the congresswoman, she said, is how Yoho’s comments draw attention to the facility with which congressional representatives and officials use dehumanizing language.
“I want to thank him for showing the world 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. You can take photos and project an image to the world of being a family man and accost women without remorse and with a sense of impunity. It happens every day in this country.”
Ocasio-Cortez recalled how President Donald Trump told her and other representatives through Twitter a little over a year ago to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Congresswoman Barbara Lee spoke at the podium about experiences of misogynistic comments, insults, racism and sexism.
A Black California Democrat, Lee said she watched her mentor Shirley Chisholm — the first Black woman elected to Congress — endure racist and personal attacks in the halls, many times on her own. But just like Ocasio-Cortez, Chisholm would not stand by and accept or tolerate that behavior, Lee said.
“Well, Congresswomen, we are here today with you, we are here supporting your right to speak out, to represent your constituents and to be who you are; a brave and bold member of Congress, which we know you to be,” Lee said. “Now the gentleman from Florida, yes, he must apologize to you, Congresswoman. He must apologize though to all the little girls who aspire to be who they are without being called disgusting names and barriers to keep their voices silent.”
Another lawmaker who called on Yoho to apologize was Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat who said the use of the B-word against women became more prominent in newspapers and national discourse after women gained the right to vote in 1920.
“And that was just a little too much power for too many men across the country,” Jayapal said. “And so, all of a sudden, that word rose in prominence because God forbid that women would have the right to vote, that we would have power in this body, that we would have power anywhere in this country. God forbid that women would actually have a voice to speak out on issues that mattered and be the arbiters of what is fair and right and spoken with dignity and truism.”
The fight for women’s equality is not ancient history. It was only in February that the House cleared the way to make the Equal Rights Amendment the 28th of the U.S. Constitution. Still that revision languishes in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed he is “personally not a supporter” of the change. The body is unlikely to vote on the amendment by the end of this legislative session.
Congressman Al Green, a Texas Democrat, praised Ocasio-Cortez’s passion, noting that both of their names, from the Greek, mean helper of humankind.
“I believe that we must change the tide of discourse in the country, and I believe that what Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has said is something that all of us should take notice of,” Green said. “She spoke from her heart, as she usually does, by the way. A brilliant head with a compassionate heart. I’m proud of her. I will stand with her not only today, but in the future.”
Other Democratic members voicing their support of Ocasio-Cortez Thursday included fellow New York Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, California Congresswoman Judy Chu, Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.