Florida Republican Rep. Ted Yoho apologized for the "abrupt manner" of an exchange he had with New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who appeared underwhelmed by the act of contrition following reports Yoho used profane language during an altercation on the Capitol steps on Monday,
Yoho’s comments, overheard by a veteran Hill reporter for The Hill, came after the GOP congressman reportedly said that Ocasio-Cortez was "disgusting" for her stance on policing and crime.
"You are out of your freaking mind," Yoho reportedly told Ocasio-Cortez on the House steps for suggesting during a town hall last month that poverty and unemployment are leading to a spike in crime in New York City amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Ocasio-Cortez responded to the charge by telling Yoho he was being "rude."
After parting ways, Yoho was overheard by the reporter allegedly referring to Ocasio-Cortez as a "f------ bitch."
After meeting with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday, Yoho took to the House floor Wednesday morning to offer his take on the matter.
"I rise today to apologize for the abrupt manner of the conversation I had with my colleague from New York. It is true that we disagree on policies and visions for America but that does not mean we should be disrespectful," Yoho said.
He then denied that he used the profanity toward Ocasio-Cortez, blaming the reporter who overheard his comments for a "misunderstanding."
"Having been married for 45 years, with two daughters, I’m very cognizant of my language," Yoho said. "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."
A short time later, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that Yoho is "refusing responsibility," emphasizing that he did not even use her name during his floor speech.
"This is not an apology," she added.
During his floor remarks, Yoho attempted to explain that his personal experience with poverty led him to confront Ocasio-Cortez.
"As my colleagues know, I’m passionate about those affected by poverty. My wife Carolyn and I started out together at the age of 19 with nothing. We did odd jobs, and we were on food stamps," Yoho said, taking a moment to regain his composure. "I know the face of poverty. And for a time it was mine. That is why I know people in this country can still with all its faults rise up and succeed and not be encouraged to break the law."
"I will commit to each of you that I will conduct myself from a place of passion and understanding that policy and political disagreement be vigorously debated with the knowledge that we approach the problems facing our nation with the betterment with the country in our mind and the people we serve," he continued. "I cannot apologize for my passion or for loving my God, my family and my country."
The irony of Yoho's personal story of poverty was not lost on Ocasio-Cortez.
Yoho's spokesman, Brian Kaveney, also denied that the retiring congressman called Ocasio-Cortez the profane term and told ABC News Tuesday that "there is no pre-existing 'beef' between the two members."
"He did not call Rep. Ocasio-Cortez what has been reported in the Hill or any name for that matter. 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," Kaveney contended. "Instead, he made a brief comment to himself as he walked away summarizing what he believes her polices to be: bullsh--."
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Tuesday that he had a meeting scheduled with Yoho later in the afternoon to discuss what happened during his altercation with Ocasio-Cortez.
"We think everybody should show respect to one another, and not knowing what took place, I'll have a discussion with him to see what happened," McCarthy said.
The inflammatory exchange followed comments Ocasio-Cortez made earlier last month during a virtual town hall.
"Crime is a problem of a diseased society, which neglects its marginalized people," Ocasio-Cortez said in June. "Policing is not the solution to crime."
Ocasio-Cortez, a freshman Democrat who has one of the highest profiles on Capitol Hill, has repeatedly called for cutting police budgets and shifting those funds into education, mental health and other social services.
Though she seemingly did not hear the comment directly, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted about the incident on Tuesday and said she had never spoken to Yoho before Monday.
Ocasio-Cortez, a liberal firebrand who represents parts of Queens and the Bronx, has often dealt with attacks from the far right. But she told The Hill in an interview that this type of confrontation was a first.
"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."
Although he was spotted alongside Yoho, Texas Republican Roger Williams denied hearing the exchange. Ocasio-Cortez asserted he is not being truthful.
The purported exchange is highly unusual at the U.S. Capitol, even as bitter partisanship is exhibited by a divided Congress. It's been nearly 100 years since a Member of Congress was censured for using "unparlimentary language."
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., was reprimanded by the House in 2009 after he notoriously interrupted President Barack Obama's remarks before a Joint Session of Congress, when he shouted from the House floor, "You lie!" during the president's prime time address at the height of the debate on the Affordable Care Act. That outburst earned Wilson an official reprimand and went down in history as a "breach of decorum" that "degraded the proceedings."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the second-ranked House Democrat, told reporters Tuesday during a press call that Yoho should be sanctioned for his "despicable" conduct toward another member.
"Bottom line, I think it was despicable conduct that needs to be sanctioned," Hoyer, D-Md., said.
"Mr. Yoho owes not only the congresswoman an apology but also an apology on the floor of the House of Representatives. We need to pursue this kind of conduct and make it very clear it is unacceptable," he said.
"It was the act of a bully, the act of a person who is the antithesis of John Lewis, who we honor every day this week," Hoyer added.
A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not respond to a request for comment.