But hey, you do get a nice lapel pin and the privilege of riding in a special elevator. Welcome to Congress!
Yesterday, a reporter for The Hill witnessed a tense exchange between Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the rising star of an insurgent progressive movement in the House, and Representative Ted Yoho, a departing star of an insurgent conservative one. Yoho reportedly accosted Ocasio-Cortez over comments she had made, saying that a spike in crime in New York was related to economic desperation.
Yoho told Ocasio-Cortez that she was “disgusting” and “out of [her] freaking mind.” Ocasio-Cortez replied that Yoho was “rude.” (Fact-check: True.) She later tweeted that another GOP congressman present snapped at her as well. As he walked away, Yoho muttered, “Fucking bitch.” This wasn’t just a flare-up of a long-running tiff between two colleagues either: Ocasio-Cortez said she’d never met the Floridian before. (In a statement to The Daily Caller, Yoho’s office disputed The Hill’s account, saying that “he made a brief comment to himself as he walked away summarizing what he believes her polices [sic] to be: bullshit.”)
There’s an obsolete but persistent idea that when members of Congress aren’t on the House or Senate floor, they’re rubbing elbows at clubby parties in Georgetown. Even before COVID-19, that wasn’t true. Mostly, they spend their time trying to destroy people they work with.
Yoho’s misogynistic outburst is particularly egregious, from a particularly outlandish member, but examples of tense encounters and obnoxious behavior in Congress are common. Just last month, the Texan and asparagus enthusiast Louie Gohmert started banging on a desk like a petulant child to try to drown out a witness with whom he disagreed. A week before that, Florida’s Matt Gaetz screamed at Louisiana’s Cedric Richmond. In 2019, the late Elijah Cummings had to mediate a dispute between Rashida Tlaib and Mark Meadows, whom she had called a racist. Lest anyone believe this is merely standard Democrat-versus-Republican stuff, Gaetz tweeted (while I was writing this article) his demand that Liz Cheney be ousted from the Republican leadership, following a tense caucus meeting this morning.
Read: Ted Yoho promises to make John Boehner’s life hell
I’m surely omitting some glaring recent cases, because there are so many, which is exactly the point. Underneath the formal, protocol-required honorific addresses—“the gentlelady from Alaska,” “the gentleman from Wyoming,” and so on, often delivered with a facetious tone—Congress is a hostile workplace. Many of the behaviors that our elected representatives display regularly on Capitol Hill would get them scolded at best and marched out by security at worst if they held the same kinds of jobs as most of their constituents.
Most jobs aren’t like being in the House or the Senate, though. Most people work in essentially bureaucratic institutions: You’re hired to do a job, there’s a hierarchy in place, and you can get promoted or fired or transferred based on your performance and interactions. But Congress is democratic, with members elected by the popular vote. For governing purposes, that’s a good thing. Few of us want to be ruled by bureaucrats (though many Americans already feel that we are).