September 27, 2020

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez denounces ‘sexist slur by congressman’

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Media captionAlexandria Ocasio-Cortez denounces ‘sexist slur by congressman’

US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has given a speech rejecting a colleague’s apology after he allegedly using a sexist slur in an argument.

The New York City Democrat took to the House floor to accuse Republican Ted Yoho of accosting her on the steps of the US Capitol on Monday.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez, who is often a target of conservatives, said the words showed a “pattern” of bad behaviour by men.

Mr Yoho denies saying the slur and has called for civility.

“This issue is not about one incident. It is cultural,” she told lawmakers, calling it a culture “of accepting a violence and violent language against women, an entire structure of power that supports that.”

She added that she was prepared to let the incident go until Mr Yoho “made excuses” by citing his wife and daughters in a speech on Wednesday.

What happened in the incident?

Ms Ocasio-Cortez said she was entering Congress to vote when Mr Yoho, a Florida congressman, and Texas Congressman Roger Williams approached her as they departed the chamber.

She said he called her “disgusting” and said “you are out of your freaking mind” in what a reporter who also witnessed the incident called a “brief but heated exchange” about recent comments Ms Ocasio-Cortez made about crime being linked to poverty.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez – a member of the so-called “squad” of young female Democrats – said she told him he was being “rude”.

Then, as Mr Yoho walked away, he was overheard by reporters using profanity and a sexist slur used to denigrate women.

Mr Yoho’s office denies he used the sexist word, and said he had exclaimed “bullshit” to himself instead as he was leaving.

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Media captionWomen in Washington DC discuss using the term “bitch”

What did Ocasio-Cortez say?

In a passionate speech on Thursday, Ms Ocasio-Cortez rejected Mr Yoho’s comments on the House floor one day earlier, in which he apologised for the “abrupt manner of the conversation” with her and said he was “very cognizant”of his language because he was married and had daughters.

“I will commit to each of you that I will conduct myself from a place of passion and understanding that policy and political disagreement be vigorously debated with the knowledge that we approach the problems facing our nation with the betterment of the country in mind and the people we serve,” Mr Yoho told his colleagues. “I cannot apologise for my passion or for loving my God, my family and my country,” he added.

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Image caption Ms Ocasio-Cortez outside the Capitol in March, where the exchange took place

“Mr Yoho mentioned that he has a wife and two daughters,” Ms Ocasio-Cortez, 30, said on Thursday. “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.”

“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,” she continued.

“When you do that to any woman, what Mr Yoho did was give permission to other men to do that to his daughters,” she added. “In using that language, in front of the press, he gave permission to use that language against his wife, his daughters, women in his community, and I am here to stand up to say that is not acceptable.”

Ms Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest Democrat in the chamber, spoke about her upbringing in New York City’s Bronx borough and other times in her life when she had heard abusive language from men.

“I want to be clear that representative Yoho’s comments were not deeply hurtful or piercing to me,” she added. “Because I have worked a working-class job.

“I have waited tables and 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.”

“This issue is not about one incident. It is cultural,” she said, calling it a culture “of accepting a violence and violent language against women, an entire structure of power that supports that”.

What did other lawmakers say?

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy defended Mr Yoho, who is 65-years-old and retiring in January, saying “when someone apologises they should be forgiven”.

“I just think in a new world, in a new age, we now determine whether we accept when someone says ‘I’m sorry’ if it’s a good enough apology,” he continued.

Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi – the top Democrat in the chamber – called the alleged slur “a manifestation of attitude in our society really”.

“I can tell you that firsthand, they’ve called me names for at least 20 years of leadership, 18 years of leadership,” she said, referring to Republicans.

“I personally have experienced a lifetime of insults, racism and sexism,” California Congresswoman Barbara Lee said on the House floor. “And believe me, this did not stop after being elected to public office.”