(WASHINGTON) — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez‘s response to a Republican lawmaker’s verbal assault broadened into an extraordinary moment on the House floor Thursday as she and other Democrats assailed a sexist culture of “accepting violence and violent language against women” whose adherents include President Donald Trump.
A day after rejecting an offer of contrition from Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., for his language during this week’s Capitol steps confrontation, Ocasio-Cortez and more than a dozen colleagues cast the incident as all-too-common behavior by men, including Trump and other Republicans.
“This issue is not about one incident. It is cultural,” said Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. She called it a culture “of accepting a violence and violent language against women, an entire structure of power that supports that.”
The outpouring, with several female lawmakers saying they’d routinely encountered such treatment, came in an election year in which polls show women lean decisively against Trump, who has a history of mocking women. Trump was captured in a 2005 tape boasting about physically abusing them, and his disparagement of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has included calling her “crazy.”
The lawmakers joining Ocasio-Cortez represented a wide range of the chamber’s Democrats, underscoring the party’s unity over an issue that can energize their party’s voters.
Those speaking up included the three other members of the “squad” of progressive freshmen Democratic women of color — Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. On the establishment side was No. 2 House leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, a moderate and 20-term veteran.
No Republicans spoke. But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., at a separate appearance defended Yoho, 65, one of his party’s most conservative members and who will retire in January.
“When someone apologizes they should be forgiven,” McCarthy said. He added later, “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.”
Pelosi herself weighed in a separate news conference.
“It’s a manifestation of attitude in our society really. I can tell you that firsthand, they’ve called me names for at least at least 20 years of leadership, 18 years of leadership,” Pelosi said of Republicans.
Pelosi, who has five children, recounted that during a debate years ago on women’s reproductive health, GOP lawmakers “said, on the floor of the House, Nancy Pelosi think she knows more about having babies than the Pope.”
In an encounter Monday witnessed by a reporter from The Hill, Yoho berated Ocasio-Cortez on the House steps for saying that some of the increased crime during the coronavirus pandemic could be traced to rising unemployment and poverty.
Ocasio-Cortez, a freshman who has made her mark as one of Congress’ most outspoken progressives, described it on the House floor Thursday. She said Yoho put his finger in her face and called her disgusting, crazy and dangerous.
She also told the House that in front of reporters, he called her, “and I quote, a fucking bitch.” That matched The Hill‘s version of what Yoho had said. Ocasio-Cortez was not there for that remark.
Ocasio-Cortez said Yoho’s references to his wife and daughters as he explained his actions during brief remarks on Wednesday actually underscored the problem.
“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,” she said. She added that a decent man apologizes “not to save face, not to win a vote. He apologizes, and genuinely, to repair and acknowledge the harm done, so that we can all move on.”
More than a dozen other Democrats also spoke, mostly women, recalling their own experiences, taunting House Republicans’ overwhelmingly white male membership and warning that the numbers of women lawmakers will only grow. Eighty-eight House Democrats and 13 Republicans are women.
“I personally have experienced a lifetime of insults, racism and sexism,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. “And believe me, this did not stop after being elected to public office.”
“We’re not going away,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. “There is going to be more power in the hands of women across this country.”