Congresswomen Barbara Lee (D-Tex.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) were among those who gave rousing speeches on the House floor Thursday in support of progressive New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who excoriated a male, Republican colleague after he called her a sexist slur earlier in the week.
Republican Congressman Ted Yoho, who represents Florida’s 3rd district, called the congresswoman a “fucking bitch” within earshot of reporters, following a tense exchange with AOC on the steps of the Capitol, Monday. Ocasio-Cortez, in her own remarks to the House on Thursday, said she was going to let the incident go until Yoho offered up a half-hearted, non-apology to her on Wednesday.
Yoho apologized for “the abrupt manner of the conversation I had with my colleague from New York,” but denied that he called her by any derogatory language.
“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,” he said, according to Slate.
Yoho added he “cannot apologize for [his] passion.”
His abusive remarks, and the subsequent denial and flippant apology, were the subject of multiple testimonials from Democratic congresswomen, who pushed back against what they described as a culture of sexist abuse in their workplace.
“We have experienced a lifetime of insults, racism and sexism, and believe you me, this did not stop after being elected to public office,” Rep. Lee said on Thursday. “It’s past time that this body understand that women of color are here to stay. Congresswoman AOC is here to stay.”
Lee, who has represented California’s 13th district since 2013, said Yoho’s remarks sent the message to others that women amount to “less than a human being.” She also invoked the name of mentor Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress.
“As a member of the late Congressman Ron Dellums’ staff, I spent many years on Capitol Hill and witnessed the personal attacks and curse words against her as a Black, female member of Congress,” Lee said. But, she said, pointing over to Ocasio-Cortez, “just like yourself, she would not tolerate such behavior.”
Congresswoman Pressley, who has worked closely with Ocasio-Cortez as part of the same freshman class of progressive congresswomen, also stood in support of her colleague. In her remarks, Pressley was affirming, choosing to address her own daughter, Cora.
“I speak to our daughters, for they are watching and carefully taking note of how we respond in this moment,” said Pressley. “So in this moment, I say to my Cora and all our daughters: you are powerful, you are limitless. Your contributions to this world are brilliant, needed, and uniquely yours.”
“You deserve a life free from fear and filled with dignity and love, you are not defined by your productivity or your chosen work,” Pressley confirmed. “We affirm these truths to be self-evident, that women are the backbone of every family, of our communities, and we are nation builders.”
But, true to form, the sharpest rebuttal to Yoho’s words came from Ocasio-Cortez herself.
“This is not new, and that is the problem,” she said in speech rejecting Yoho’s weak apology. “Mr. Yoho was not alone. He was walking shoulder to shoulder with Representative Roger Williams. And that’s when we start to see that this issue is not about one incident. It is cultural. It is a culture of lack of impunity. Of accepting violence and violent language against women. And an entire structure of power that supports that.”
She also called out Yoho using the fact that he was a wife and daughters—a standard part of the “I got caught being sexist” playbook. Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that she is two years younger than Yoho’s youngest daughter.
“I am someone’s daughter, too. My father, thankfully, is not alive to see how Mr. Yoho treated his daughter,” she said. “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.”