WASHINGTON – In a confrontation overheard by a reporter Monday outside the Capitol, Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., called Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., “disgusting” and told her “you are out of your freaking mind” for describing poverty as a root cause of crime, prompting the congresswoman to later condemn what she described as Yoho’s “virulent harassment” of her.
Yoho also used a sexist slur to describe Ocasio-Cortez once she was out of earshot, according to the Hill newspaper, which first reported on the exchange.
According to the Hill, Yoho uttered the words, “f—ing b—h.” A spokesman for Yoho denied that the congressman used the epithet and said he instead uttered the word “bull—-” to himself, describing his view of Ocasio-Cortez’s policies.
Asked about Yoho’s reported comments, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., called them “despicable” and “unacceptable” and told reporters Tuesday that the lawmaker should be sanctioned by the House, although he did not provide any details on what form such a sanction might take.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he was going to meet with Yoho on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the incident.
On Twitter on Tuesday morning, Ocasio-Cortez denounced Yoho’s behavior and criticized another GOP lawmaker, Rep. Roger Williams of Texas, who was present for at least part of the exchange.
“I never spoke to Rep. Yoho before he decided to accost me on the steps of the nation’s Capitol yesterday,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “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*tches’ get stuff done.”
She accused Williams of joining Yoho in “yelling” at her and blasted the Texas Republican for later telling a reporter he had not been paying attention to the confrontation between the other two lawmakers.
A spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
According to the report by the Hill’s Mike Lillis, the confrontation took place Monday when Ocasio-Cortez was ascending the steps outside the east side of the Capitol and Yoho, who was descending after a vote, approached her.
Yoho told Ocasio-Cortez she was “disgusting” for recently suggesting that a crime spike in New York City amid the coronavirus pandemic may have been driven by unemployment and poverty.
“You are out of your freaking mind,” Yoho said, and Ocasio-Cortez told Yoho he was being “rude,” according to the Hill. After the exchange, Yoho continued descending the steps while joined by Williams. A few moments later, when Ocasio-Cortez was out of earshot, Yoho used the sexist epithet, the Hill reported.
Yoho declined to comment to the Hill on Monday when asked about the exchange.
In an email to The Washington Post on Tuesday morning, Yoho spokesman Brian Kaveney confirmed that Yoho “had a brief member to member conversation on the steps of the Capitol.” But he said the congressman “did not call Rep. Ocasio-Cortez what has been reported in the Hill or any name for that matter.”
“Instead, he made a brief comment to himself as he walked away summarizing what he believes her polices to be: bullshit,” Kaveney said. He accused Ocasio-Cortez of “using this exchange to gain personal attention,” even though the confrontation was reported by the Hill before the congresswoman mentioned it publicly.
Kaveney did not respond when asked to confirm Yoho’s other reported comments.
Williams, meanwhile, told the Hill that while he was walking down the steps with Yoho on Monday, he had been “thinking about some issues I’ve got in my district that need to get done” and had not paid much attention to what Yoho and Ocasio-Cortez were saying.
“I don’t know what their topic was,” Williams told the Hill. “There’s always a topic, isn’t there?”
In tweets Tuesday morning, Ocasio-Cortez accused Williams of lying and said he had “joined in” with Yoho.
“Gotta love Republican courage from Rep @RogerWilliamsTX: 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 and keep pushing,” she said.
Ocasio-Cortez added: “What’s wild to me @RogerWilliamsTX is why would you blatantly lie to a reporter who saw this exchange? You were yelling at me too, about ‘throwing urine.'”
Several Democratic lawmakers defended Ocasio-Cortez on Tuesday. At a briefing with reporters at the Capitol, Hoyer called Yoho’s comments “despicable” and “unacceptable” and said he “owes not only the congresswoman an apology” but should also deliver a full apology in a speech on the House floor.
“It was the act of a bully,” Hoyer said, adding, “It needs to be sanctioned.”
Several male Democratic lawmakers noted on Twitter that they shared Ocasio-Cortez’s views on the link between unemployment, poverty and crime but had not been similarly confronted by Yoho, suggesting that the lawmaker chose to target the New York Democrat because of her gender.
“Like @aoc, I believe poverty to be a root cause of crime,” Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., tweeted. “Wonder why Rep. Yoho hasn’t accosted me on the Capitol steps with the same sentiment?”
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., also defended Ocasio-Cortez.
“I can confirm that AOC gets along w many of her Republican colleagues on a range of things that don’t have anything to do w legislation or politics,” Gaetz said in a tweet. “She is not a [b—h].”
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The Washington Post’s Paul Kane contributed to this report.