A debacle on Capitol Hill this week when a Republican lawmaker challenged Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on issues of crime and policing in an unusual — and decidedly personal — confrontation on the Capitol steps.
Representative Ted Yoho was coming down the steps on the east side of the Capitol on Monday, having just voted, when he approached Ocasio-Cortez, who was ascending into the building to cast a vote of her own.
In a brief but heated exchange, which was overheard by a reporter, Yoho told Ocasio-Cortez she was “disgusting” for recently suggesting that poverty and unemployment are driving a spike in crime in New York City during the coronavirus pandemic.
“You are out of your freaking mind,” Yoho told her.
Ocasio-Cortez shot back, telling Yoho he was being “rude.”
The two then parted ways. Ocasio-Cortez headed into the building, while Yoho, joined by Representative Roger Williams , began descending toward the House office buildings. A few steps down, Yoho offered a parting thought to no one in particular.
“Fucking bitch,” he said.
Ocasio-Cortez, a liberal firebrand and social media sensation, is no stranger to attacks from the right. But shortly after the exchange, she said it was the first time since she arrived in Congress that another lawmaker has challenged her so aggressively.
“That kind of confrontation hasn’t ever happened to me — ever,” she said. “I’ve never had that kind of abrupt, disgusting kind of disrespect levied at me.”
Approached a few hours later, Yoho declined to discuss any aspect of the exchange. “No comment,” he said.
Williams, who was in a position to hear the entire back-and-forth, said he wasn’t paying it any mind.
“I was actually thinking, as I was walking down the stairs, I was thinking about some issues I’ve got in my district that need to get done,” Williams said. “I don’t know what their topic was. There’s always a topic, isn’t there?”
At issue were comments Ocasio-Cortez made earlier in the month during a virtual town hall with the mothers of two Black men, Eric Garner and Ramarley Graham, who were killed in recent years by New York police officers.
During the event, Ocasio-Cortez was asked about gun violence in New York, which has spiked this summer as the nation’s largest city — which was clobbered by the coronavirus — slowly reopens from a months-long lockdown.
Ocasio-Cortez, who represents parts of Queens and the Bronx, has long advocated for policies that cut police budgets and shift that funding to education, mental health and other social services. In her response, she stuck to that theme, suggesting the surge in crime stems from the economic hardship facing New York’s poorest communities — and a failure of policymakers to fund programs aimed at leveling economic disparities.
“Crime is a problem of a diseased society, which neglects its marginalized people,” she said during the July 9 event. “Policing is not the solution to crime.”
Ocasio-Cortez went on to propose that “economic desperation” caused by the coronavirus pandemic — combined with glitches in the delivery of federal stimulus checks and unemployment payments — has helped trigger the crime spike.
“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. “So … they’re put in a position where they feel like they either need to shoplift some bread or go hungry that night.”
Conservatives pounced, accusing Ocasio-Cortez of propounding tortured rationales to excuse violent crime.
“There’s a big difference between shoplifting and cold-blooded murder, and for her not to know the difference is frankly astonishing,” former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said last week on Fox News.
On Monday, Ocasio-Cortez defended her position, saying she made clear during the town hall that she was referring to “petty crime and crimes of poverty.”
Conservative media, she said, has purposefully taken her comments out of context.
“I say, ‘Listen, I’m not talking about violent crime, I’m not talking about shootings. But when it comes to petty theft, a lot of these are crimes of poverty, and people are desperate,'” she said. “So the right wing cuts up this clip, per usual, in a very misleading way. … They basically [want] to make it seem as though I’m saying people are shooting each other because they’re hungry.”
Ocasio-Cortez acknowledged that her outspoken advocacy of liberal policies has made her an easy target of conservatives.
“Obviously, I’m no stranger to this,” she said.
But the confrontation with Yoho was something new.
“In all these intense news cycles, I have never, ever been treated that way by another member before,” she said. “I’m frankly quite taken aback.”
Ocasio-Cortez tweeted about the exchange after this story was published online.