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Ted Yoho Probably Broke No Congressional Rules by Insulting AOC On the Capitol Steps

It sure sounds like a Florida legislator needs a lesson in manners. According to a report by The Hill, a heated exchange between Florida Congressman Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) occurred Monday on the steps of the Capitol just after a vote.  And by “exchange,” we mean that Yoho insulted Ocasio-Cortez by calling her “disgusting” and telling her she was “out of [her] freaking mind.” AOC responded by calling Yoho “rude,” and as he walked away, Yoho was heard openly saying “fucking bitch” as the two parted ways.

Asked about the incident, Ocasio-Cortez told press, “That kind of confrontation hasn’t ever happened to me — ever.” She continued, “I’ve never had that kind of abrupt, disgusting kind of disrespect levied at me.”

Twittereprimands have been rolling in since reports of the incident broke.

According to The Hill’s report, Congressman Roger Williams (R-Texas) had been walking down the stairs as Yoho hurled insults at AOC.

Ocasio-Cortez also tweeted that Williams was not only a witness, but that he participated in the exchange as well:

In comments to The Hill, Williams claims to have been deep in thought. “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?

There certainly was a topic. Ocasio-Cortez had been defending comments she made earlier this month about crime spikes during the coronavirus pandemic. During a July 9 event, AOC said, “Crime is a problem of a diseased society, which neglects its marginalized people,” adding, “Policing is not the solution to crime.”

She continued to state that “economic desperation” during the pandemic was to blame for the increase in crime.  Facing criticism from conservatives that AOC was making excuses for those committing violent crimes, she clarified Monday:

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.

Calling out conservative media for taking her previous comments out of context, 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.

Some male Democratic members of Congress, including Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.)  and Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) pointed out via Twitter that they’ve made the same points about poverty and crime, and that no one ever used profane language when disagreeing with them.

While many would agree that Congresspeople cursing each other out on the Capitol steps is a bad look, is there actually anything illegal about it?

Maybe.

The lengthy Rules of the House of Representatives is revised for each Congress. In it, there is a section marked “The Code of Official Conduct.” In that section, the very first rule reads as follows:

A Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee of the House shall behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.

“Creditably” means “in a satisfactory way” or “bringing or deserving credit, honor, reputation, or esteem.”

Would calling a fellow member of Congress “disgusting” or a “fucking bitch” meet those definitions? We’re guessing the answer is a hard “no.” However, Yoho certainly wouldn’t be the first member of Congress to make rude remarks to a coworker outside the chamber, so we don’t expect there to be much recourse on this basis.

Of course, had Yoho uttered his words during a House proceeding, Rule XVII, clause 4 of the standing rules of the House of Representatives would have given Ocasio-Cortez a parliamentary mechanism to call him out.

Yoho’s language would likely have been deemed “disorderly” or “unparliamentary,” and therefore a violation of House rules of decorum. Had they been on the debate floor, AOC could have demanded that Yoho’s “words be taken down.” However, given that the exchange happened outside on the Capitol steps, it appears that Yoho’s comments would not constitute a direct violation.

Tuesday, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted several times about the exchange in which Yoho “accosted” her on the steps of the Capitol.

Congressman Yoho does not appear to have tweeted about the reported exchange with Ocasio-Cortez and has reportedly declined comment. Law&Crime attempted to contact Yoho for comment, but his office’s outgoing voicemail stated that the office was currently closed, and his website does not list email addresses.

[image via YouTube screen grab]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos