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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says she never had a conversation with Rep. Ted Yoho before Monday, when the Florida Republican reportedly accosted her on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
The freshman Democrat from New York said that Yoho, who was exiting the Capitol with Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, suddenly flew into a “rage.”
“I was walking up the Capitol steps to vote when Reps. Yoho and Williams came around the corner of the second flight,” Ocasio-Cortez recalled Tuesday, speaking to Yahoo News via Twitter direct messages. “When I pass other members on the steps, regardless of party, I usually nod or say hello if I’m able. Out of nowhere, Yoho comes up to me and puts his finger in my face and flies off in a rage. He started going off about shootings and bread and nonsense, calling me crazy, shameful, out of my mind, etc.
“At first I tried to talk to him, but that just made him yell over me more,” she continued. “Williams then started joining in, yelling things at me and said something about throwing urine — I don’t know what that was about. I said he was being rude and that this was unbelievable and started to walk away. He said, ‘I’M RUDE? You’re calling ME rude?!’ And I just kept walking to my vote.”
A spokeswoman for Williams denied the allegation that he yelled at her about "throwing urine.”
According to The Hill, which first reported the incident, Yoho called Ocasio-Cortez a “f***ing bitch” as he walked away. A spokesman for Yoho denied the report.
“He did not call Rep. Ocasio-Cortez what has been reported in The Hill or any name, for that matter,” Brian Kaveney, Yoho’s press secretary, said in a statement. “Instead, he made a brief comment to himself as he walked away summarizing what he believes her policies to be: bulls***.”
Ocasio-Cortez told Yahoo News she did not hear exactly what he said at the time.
“He kept muttering insults at me as I was walking away, but I didn’t try to make it out,” she explained. “I thought he had said something but didn’t assume that’s what he said.
“I actually confronted him later that day about what he did and he doubled down, yelling at me again for a second time later in the afternoon.”
But their exchange on the steps of the Capitol was unusual, even in a highly partisan town like Washington.
“There is usually a general understanding and decency among members on House grounds,” she explained. “We are all in politics and understand how vicious media and campaign attacks are — almost everyone has had bad-faith or unfair attacks levied against them at some point, which creates a strange sort of common ground among members when it comes to this sort of thing. Folks at least ask if you actually said what’s being reported, or if it’s being taken out of context, etc. But to launch into an attack based off some random segment is really unusual. To launch into an attack of any kind on House grounds, with not just one but two members, is virtually unheard of.”
Yoho’s spokesman denied it was an unusual exchange.
“Congressman Yoho had a brief member-to-member conversation on the steps of the Capitol,” Kaveney said. “As you know, these conversations happen frequently when the House is in session.”
He added: “It sounds better for the Hill newspaper and gets more media attention to say he called her a name — which he did not do. It is unfortunate that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is using this exchange to gain personal attention.”
It’s unclear what, if any, repercussions Yoho could face for his conduct.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called on Yoho to apologize to Ocasio-Cortez on the House floor.
“Mr. Yoho owes not only the congresswoman an apology, but also an apology on the floor of the House of Representatives,” Hoyer told reporters Tuesday.
“It was the act of a bully,” the Maryland Democrat added. “Bottom line, I think it was despicable conduct. It needs to be sanctioned.”
Yoho’s reported rant may have been triggered by comments Ocasio-Cortez made during a virtual town hall about a recent spike in crime in New York City.
Ocasio-Cortez, who represents the Bronx and Queens in Congress, said “economic desperation” caused by the coronavirus pandemic is partly to blame.
“Maybe this has to do with the fact that people aren’t paying their rent and are scared to pay their rent, and so they go out and they need to feed their child and they don’t have money, “she said. “They’re put in a position where they feel like they either need to shoplift some bread or go hungry that night.”
The comments were featured on Fox News and by other outlets, accusing her of conflating petty crime and gun violence.
Ocasio-Cortez said her comments were purposely taken out of context by the right, but she couldn’t recall any past conversations with Yoho on this or any other topic.
“I tend to get along with Republicans I serve on committees with (as much as they drive us nuts sometimes), but I don’t recall having a conversation with Yoho in my entire time here,” she wrote.
Asked what she sees as a solution, the congresswoman said she wasn’t sure.
“I do not know what the solution to conservative media is, but it is dangerous,” she said. “My office always sees spikes in violent threats after I am on Tucker, Hannity, & Ingraham’s programs in particular. We know it’s their programs because the people who call tend to repeat lines and topics from their show the night before almost verbatim in their attacks.”
She said many of her GOP colleagues understand that much of what she says is “intentionally manipulated” or taken out of context, but “many do not.”
“I’ve had some GOP members ask me in confidence if some conspiracy theory-esque right wing claims about me are true,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “This has very real implications for policy making.”
Policy making aside, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., tweeted in support of his Democratic colleague.
“I can confirm that AOC gets along [with] many of her Republican colleagues on a range of things that don’t have anything to do [with] legislation or politics,” Gaetz wrote on Twitter. “She is not a bitch.”
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