NPR’s Michel Martin speaks with Rev. Eugene Cho, president and CEO of Bread for the World, about the charity’s decision to ask Rep. Ted Yoho to resign from its board.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now we’re going to turn to a political story that in a different time might have ended up as a paragraph in somebody’s memoir or might not have been reported at all. We’re talking about that confrontation between Republican Congressman Ted Yoho of Florida and New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York and a rising star of the progressive movement.
According to a reporter who overheard it, Representative Yoho pursued Representative Ocasio-Cortez on the steps of the Capitol to berate her over a policy disagreement. And when she objected to his tone, he uttered a vulgar, sexist slur, which was, as I said, overheard by others. Representative Yoho then gave a speech on the House floor to address his, quote, “abrupt manner,” unquote, in his conversation with Representative Ocasio-Cortez.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TED YOHO: It is true that we disagree on policies and visions for America, but that does not mean we should be disrespectful. Having been married for 45 years with two daughters, I’m very cognizant of my language. 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.
MARTIN: Critics called it a non-apology. And Representative Yoho’s mention of his daughters prompted this response from Representative Ocasio-Cortez – a response which has now gone viral.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: I am someone’s daughter, too. My father thankfully is not alive to see how Mr. Yoho treated his daughter. My mother got to see Mr. Yoho’s disrespect on the floor of this House towards me on television. And I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.
MARTIN: Well, as part of this fallout, representative Yoho was asked to resign from the board of a well-known Christian charity, Bread for the World. He has now resigned. And we wanted to hear more about this – especially why this is resonating so strongly outside of the normally clubby confines of Capitol Hill. So we’ve called the president and CEO of Bread for the World, the Reverend Eugene Cho, and he is with us now.
Reverend Cho, thank you so much for being with us today.
EUGENE CHO: Thank you so much for having me.
MARTIN: Well, yesterday, the organization issued a statement saying the congressman’s, quote, “recent actions and words as reported in the media are not reflective of the ethical standards expected of members of our board of directors,” end quote. So I just wanted to ask how you and members of the board came to the decision to ask for Representative Yoho’s resignation. Why did this resonate so strongly, in other words?
CHO: Well, as you can imagine, this has been a very difficult week at Bread for the World. Having said that, when we were made aware of the incident, we made sure not to rush to any particular decision. I think in our larger culture and world, there’s so much pressure and voices shouting at us about what we should do. We took some time to reflect internally, to have some discussions with our board of directors and our staff and our constituents. And we also wanted to wait to be able to have a conversation directly with Congressman Yoho.
But as you noted in the introduction, we have expectations for our board of directors. We’re not an organization that demands perfection of any of us because clearly, we’ll all fall short. But we did feel that his comments were inappropriate, not reflective of the ethical standards and Christian values that we seek to uphold as an organization and for our leaders. And for that reason, we had that conversation with Congressman Yoho.
MARTIN: Well, prior to his resignation, Bread for the World released an earlier statement where you expressed concern about Representative Yoho’s words to Representative Ocasio-Cortez and about her because I do want to clarify here that the particularly offensive language that was reported – well, first he says he didn’t say it, and then secondly, the reporter who overheard it said that he didn’t say it to her face but about her after she objected to the way he had approached her.
But the statement prior to his resignation from Bread for the World called Representative Yoho’s speech on the floor a non-apology. Can you talk about that a bit more? I mean, I guess what I’m wondering is, like, what was the sort of the pivotal piece that made you feel or you and other members of the board feel that they had to call for his resignation? Was it because he didn’t apologize? Was it because he didn’t acknowledge a hurt or a harm?
CHO: You know, I think it’s those factors. I think it’s the initial reports, the comments. I think it was the apology that was given on the floor. You know, at this point, I think it’s difficult for us to debate all the various media accounts of the recent events. But I think to summarize why we were so concerned, it was the initial comments. It was the apology that was given.
And it was for that reason that we handled it internally and then also felt that it was important – in the same way that we expect a certain level of respect and civility for, us. It was important for us to reach out directly to Congressman Yoho and to have that conversation, to express our concern and ultimately for these various factors to speak about his resignation.
MARTIN: Do you feel comfortable saying whether he privately acknowledged these words and whether he privately gave a more robust apology than he did on the House floor?
CHO: Yeah. I think that’s the question that a lot of people are asking and I think what would be respectful and civil. These things that we’re urging others to do is not to disclose the specifics of a personal conversation. What I can tell you is that it was not a contentious conversation at all. He understood the situation, the predicament that we find ourselves in and really spoke about the important work that Bread for the World does and his desire to not be a barrier to that.
We’re not people that believe in cancel culture. I know that there is a lot of conversation going on about the dangers of cancel culture. I think there’s a difference between cancel culture and accountability. We can extend grace and still seek accountability.
So we’re not here – I’m not here as the president of Bread for the World to erase our relationship with Congressman Yoho, even despite the resignation. We’re grateful for his 18 months of service on our board, and we want to be able to thank him again publicly for his long-standing commitment to investing in foreign aid transparency and accountability. We also worked with him on the reauthorization of the Global Food Security Act.
MARTIN: I do want to mention Representative Yoho was not the only Republican on the board, and there remain Republicans on the board. I’m thinking particularly of – the former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole remains on the board, for one person that people might know. But I did wonder – again, not trying to intrude on private conversations – was there any objection to seeking his resignation, partly because of the factor that you just raised – this whole question of whether people can be imperfect and still be worthy to serve?
CHO: It was not the most comfortable or the most enjoyable of conversations. And what I mean by that is that it wasn’t contentious. It was very respectful. But I also just want to acknowledge this has not been the ideal situation for all people involved. This is very unfortunate. There are some that would say that any media is good media, and this is not good media. We regret the situation, and we regret some of the pain that’s been inflicted on women, women of color.
But I am – really, I’m here to just basically share that it wasn’t contentious, it was respectful and to give a glimpse of that. I was very encouraged that Congressman Yoho said that he was willing to continue to work with us, that his doors would remain open. And I think it speaks again to his desire to be about the practical work even despite this unfortunate situation – about the practical work, about caring for people who experience hunger and poverty in our nation and around the world.
And I think as many people are focused and fixated on this particular incident – and we get it. We understand that. I know this has hit a chord for many women of their own pain and experiences. We have to keep having those conversations, hold that intention. But we also want to seek to pivot the conversation and speak about the fact that there are so many people in our nation and around the world who are experiencing the realities of hunger. And there is important work to be done on that front.
MARTIN: That’s the Reverend Eugene Cho, who is president and CEO of Bread for the World.
Reverend Cho, thank you so much for speaking with us today.
CHO: Thank you.
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