A.O.C. Unleashes a Viral Condemnation of Sexism in Congress.
After a Republican lawmaker referred to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez using a sexist vulgarity, she took to the House floor to denounce the abuse faced by women in Congress and across the nation.
WASHINGTON — Ever since Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came to Congress as the youngest woman elected to the House, she has upended traditions, harnessing the power of social media and challenging leaders, including President Trump, who are 50 years her senior.
On Thursday, she had her most norm-shattering moment yet when she took to the House floor to read into the Congressional Record a sexist vulgarity that Representative Ted Yoho, a Florida Republican, had used to refer to her.
"In front of reporters, Representative Yoho called me, and I quote: 'A fucking bitch,'" she said, punching each syllable in the vulgarity. "These are the words Representative Yoho levied against a congresswoman."
Then Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who excels at using her detractors to amplify her own political brand, invited a group of Democratic women in the House to come forward to express solidarity with her. One by one, they shared their own stories of harassment and mistreatment by men, including in Congress. More even than the profanity uttered on the House floor, where language is carefully regulated, what unfolded over the next hour was a remarkable moment of cultural upheaval on Capitol Hill.
"It happens every day in this country," Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said. "It happened here on the steps of our nation's Capitol." And then, in an unmistakable shot at Mr. Trump, she added, "It happens when individuals who hold the highest office in this land admit to hurting women and using this language against all of us."
Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington, recounted how a male Republican lawmaker had once lashed out at her during a debate on the House floor, sternly calling Ms. Jayapal, 54, a "young lady" and saying that she did not "know a damn thing" about what she was talking about. Ms. Jayapal did not name the lawmaker, but she was referring to Representative Don Young, Republican of Alaska, whose insults of Ms. Jayapal were captured on video in a 2017 incident that was widely reported at the time.
Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Florida and the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, recounted her own experiences as a "20-something lawmaker" in Florida's statehouse and again as a member of Congress in her 30s.
"Few women here watching have not felt a man's bullying breath or menacing finger in our face as we were told exactly where our place was at work," Ms. Wasserman Schultz said.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the most powerful woman in Washington, offered her own account: "I can tell you this firsthand, they called me names for at least 20 years of leadership. You'd say to them, 'Do you not have a daughter? Do you not have a mother? Do you not have a sister? Do you not have a wife?' What makes you think you can be so — and this is the word I use for them — condescending?"
It was the third straight day that the confrontation had consumed the Capitol. It began on Monday when Mr. Yoho approached Ms. Ocasio-Cortez on the Capitol steps and told her she was "disgusting" for suggesting that poverty was driving crime in New York City.
In her tweet, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez embraced the insult, remarking, "But hey, 'b*tches' get stuff done."
By Wednesday evening, the media-savvy Ms. Ocasio-Cortez had sprung into action to create a disruptive and viral event. Her aides emailed invitations asking her fellow lawmakers to join her on Thursday on the House floor, when she planned to discuss how she "was accosted and publicly ridiculed," according to a copy of the invitation.
By Thursday morning, 13 Democratic women in the House and three men, including Representative Steny H. Hoyer, the Democratic majority leader, had turned up on the floor to speak for her. There were the three liberal women who with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez make up the so-called squad — Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts — but also moderates like Representative Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez began by saying that she would have been willing to let the incident pass until she heard what Mr. Yoho called an apology. Mr. Yoho offered some words of contrition on Wednesday for the episode, but he declined to apologize to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez for his language, denying that he had used the phrase and arguing that his passion stemmed from his concern about poverty.
A spokesman for Mr. Yoho said he used a barnyard epithet to describe her policies, not insult her.
"The offensive name-calling words attributed to me by the press were never spoken to my colleagues, and if they were construed that way, I apologize for their misunderstanding," Mr. Yoho said on the House floor. He concluded, "I cannot apologize for my passion or for loving my god, my family and my country."
But Ms. Ocasio-Cortez had had enough. "That I could not let go," she said in her speech on Thursday.
There was more.
"Mr. Yoho mentioned that he has a wife and two daughters," she said. "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. My mother got to see Mr. Yoho's disrespect on the floor of the House toward me on television, and 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."
Republicans have long labored to cast Ms. Ocasio-Cortez as an avatar of the evils of the Democratic Party, a move that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has used to bolster her own cheeky, suffer-no-fools reputation. When she cast her vote for Ms. Pelosi for speaker while wearing a white suit as a homage to the suffragists, members of the predominately male House Republican conference booed her. She retorted on Twitter, "Don't hate me cause you ain't me, fellas."
Republican leaders were also not impressed with her speech on Thursday.
"When someone apologizes they should be forgiven," Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican leader, told reporters. "I don't understand that we're going to take another hour on a floor to debate whether the apology was good enough or not."
By Thursday afternoon, a video that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez shared on Twitter of her floor speech had been viewed over six million times.
Mr. Hoyer, for his part, initially called Mr. Yoho's apology "appropriate." But after it became clear that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was not satisfied with Mr. Yoho's remarks, Mr. Hoyer called the words a "nonapology" and called Mr. Yoho's actions an attack on women.
"All the men on this side of the aisle are supportive of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and all of her sisters," Mr. Hoyer said.
July 24, 2020
Voices4America Post Script. AOC would not accept abuse from a man who then pretended to apologize. Watch her and listen to what she says. She is too powerful and too smart for what passes for leadership on the GOP side of our Congress to understand. #AllHailAOC #EndMisogynyNow
Here is the original report from The Hill about Yoho's attack on AOC.
A Republican lawmaker challenged Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on issues of crime and policing in an unusual — and… https://t.co/A9u1Y5OVxz— The Hill (@The Hill) 1595342404.0
This is AOC describing the systemic and dehumanizing language that was applied to her by Representative Yoho, and why she couldn't let this language stand.
Here is my full response regarding Mr. Yoho and the culture of misogyny that inspired his actions. I am deeply app… https://t.co/YQQwMf7D2T— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) 1595522583.0
Here is Lisa Lerer of The New York Times unpacking the significance of what AOC did. She begins with this mighty reminder of accepted misogyny in America - “How many times was Hillary Clinton called a bitch over the course of her decades in public life?”
ON POLITICS WITH LISA LERER
Few prominent women in power have publicly addressed a particular vulgarity that men have leveled against them for years. Today, on the floor of the House, that changed.
By Lisa Lerer
- July 23, 2020
How many times was Hillary Clinton called a bitch over the course of her decades in public life?
I suspect the answer lies somewhere in the range between 500 and 10 million. At one point in the 2016 campaign, I even witnessed a 10-year-old boy chant the vulgarity at a Trump rally in exurban Washington.
Yet, through all those years and all those expletives, we never heard Mrs. Clinton publicly address that word.
Few prominent women have, in any memorable way, even though men have leveled it against women in power since before they ever had any real power at all.
Today, on the august floor of the House of Representatives, the world saw a very different reckoning with that word, power and sexism.
"Representative Yoho called me, and I quote, a fucking bitch," Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said from the floor this morning. "These are the words Representative Yoho levied against a congresswoman."
Two days ago, Representative Ted Yoho, Republican of Florida, made headlines when a reporter overhead him using the vulgar language against Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. Yesterday, he gave an "apology" from the House floor that did not seem to involve any, well, actual apologizing. He denied uttering the vulgarity on Wednesday when he said, "I cannot apologize for my passion or for loving my god, my family and my country."
Today, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez delivered her response, a searing indictment not only of Mr. Yoho but also of a culture that allows men to use abusive language and supports violence against women.
"I honestly thought I was going to pack it up and go home — it's just another day," Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said, recalling how many times she has been called racist and sexist names by men, from the governor of Florida to drunk patrons in the New York City bar where she once waited tables.
But then, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said, she decided she could not allow her nieces and other girls to see Congress accept this kind of behavior with silence. Watching Mr. Yoho cite his own wife and daughters on the House floor in his speech was the last straw.
"Mr. Yoho mentioned that he has a wife and two daughters. I am two years younger than Mr. Yoho's youngest daughter. I am someone's daughter, too," she said. "Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man. And when a decent man messes up, as we all are bound to do, he tries his best and does apologize."
Obviously, Mr. Yoho's comments signal an outrageous breach of civility. Even Mrs. Clinton was never called that word on the Capitol grounds by a sitting congressman in front of reporters. As several Democrats mentioned on the House floor, race certainly plays a role, too. A way for a white man to try to put a young, Latina congresswoman in her place.
Even so, the fact that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez felt free to shame Mr. Yoho from the House floor signifies a shift in our politics.
In the past, a female politician would have — as Ms. Ocasio-Cortez alluded — shrugged off the insult, warned by advisers that addressing the issue could backfire against her own political reputation. Instead, several of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez's colleagues followed her speech with comments of their own from the House floor.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a sharp political mind, is well aware that there's a constituency for those remarks, a crucial 2020 voting bloc fueled by the anger of women.
Rage moms, if you will.
It's quite the evolution in the cliché ways that strategists think about female voters. Over the past three decades, we've gone from suburban "soccer moms" to Alaskan "hockey Moms" to anti-gun moms to fed-up, tired and simply out of you-know-what-to-give moms.
Look at the polling numbers. During the Trump administration, the traditional gender gap has become a "canyon." Even among white working-class women, who supported Mr. Trump in 2016, support has plummeted. In the suburbs, a place not exactly known as a hotbed of political radicalism, majorities of female voters reject Mr. Trump by whopping margins.
Look at the foot soldiers of the Democratic Party. As I frequently hear from candidates and strategists, the people at the helm of organizations, staffing campaign offices and volunteering are overwhelmingly women.
And look at the liberal activists. In Portland, Ore., a "wall of moms," clad in bike helmets and goggles, faces off against federal agents. Black female activists lead Black Lives Matter protests and steer the exploding racial justice movement.
Clearly, a lot of Democratic and independent women in America are angry. They're tired of dysfunction in Washington. They're tired of inaction on the issues that matter most to their daily lives, like school and child care closures. And they're really tired of Mr. Trump's chaotic style and lack of empathy.
Starting in a few weeks, these angry women will cast ballots for the presidency. And after years of Mr. Trump letting his supporters use that word against them, it's their anger that may end up being his undoing.