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Veterinary groups criticize Rep. Ted Yoho’s conduct

AVMA statement about veterinarian-congressman draws organization into the fray

July 29, 2020 (published)
By Lisa Wogan

Rep. Ted Yoho official photo
A four-term Republican congressman from Florida, Dr. Ted Yoho is under fire for failing to live up to the standards of the veterinarian's professional code of conduct in his reported interactions with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

A news report that U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, a veterinarian with a background in large animal practice, insulted U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the Capitol steps has stirred outrage among veterinarians who believe the reported behavior fails to live up to the profession's standards of conduct.

The July 21 story in The Hill set off a string of events, including a repudiation of The Hill's report by Yoho, followed by an apology, followed by a rejection of that apology by Ocasio-Cortez.

Now, a statement about the incident from the American Veterinary Medical Association — which does not directly criticize Yoho — is drawing public ire toward the organization.

The AVMA posted on its Facebook page on Friday:

"The reported interaction between Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Ted Yoho has put a spotlight on the status of gender equity in our society. While the facts are disputed by both Members of Congress, we feel it is important to comment on the reported interaction because it involves a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association. It is also important to note that the AVMA is a professional organization and we are non-partisan. As such, we do not make public statements about the actions of elected officials."

The statement goes on to affirm the AVMA's commitment to gender equity, anti-racism, diversity and inclusion in the profession, and the expectations that members demonstrate professionalism and uphold the dignity and respect of the profession.

The majority of the more than 1,300 comments in response to the statement criticize the AVMA for failing to rebuke Yoho. Commenters called the response "tepid," "shameful," "a copout" and "disgusting."

Many called on the AVMA to censure Yoho or eject him from the organization.

Yoho, who is not seeking reelection this year, is a member of the AVMA and earned an advocacy award from the organization last year for his work promoting veterinary medicine.

The trouble began on July 20, when, according to The Hill, Yoho approached Ocasio-Cortez outside the Capitol, and told her "she was 'disgusting' for recently suggesting that poverty and unemployment are driving a spike in crime in New York City during the pandemic."

According to the story, Yoho also said, "You are out of your freaking mind," to which she responded that he was "rude."

The reporter wrote that after Ocasio-Cortez walked away, Yoho said, "Fucking bitch."

Yoho has denied saying the last phrase. According to multiple reports, he claims the b-word was "bullshit."

The AVMA, in response to a request from the VIN News Service to discuss its position, provided this written statement from Dr. Rena Carlson-Lammers, chair of the association's board of directors:

"The recent interaction on Capitol Hill between Representatives Ted Yoho and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has put a spotlight on the important issue of gender equity in our society.

"Both representatives made statements regarding their encounter on the House floor last week. Because Rep. Yoho is an AVMA member veterinarian, and because of the significance of this issue, we felt it was important to reach out to him directly last Friday. As he did during a national television interview later that evening, Rep. Yoho strongly denied saying the words or exhibiting the behaviors attributed to him. In media interviews and during her remarks on the House floor, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has just as clearly indicated otherwise.

"While the starkly different accounts of the encounter made it challenging to make a statement about the specifics of the encounter, we did take this opportunity to clearly reaffirm our values and what we stand for. Abusive and misogynistic language and behavior have no place in veterinary medicine or society as a whole. We stand in solidarity with our colleagues across the veterinary profession in our expectation that women should always be treated with the utmost respect and professionalism. The AVMA's core values include our commitment to represent and support a diverse community of veterinarians with unique perspectives. We support the right of all individuals to have work environments that are free of sexism, racism, bullying, and abusive language.

"While these are painful and challenging times, they also support a renewed focus on important conversations that need to take place."

Among those unhappy about Yoho's reported behavior and the AVMA response are Dr. Susan Cotter, a professor emeritus at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, and Dr. Florina Tseng, assistant dean for diversity, inclusion, equity and climate at Cummings. They joined nine other veterinarians — all women, the majority of them board-certified specialists — who have submitted a letter to the editor of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Many are associated with Tufts but all signed the letter as individuals.

In a copy of the letter provided to VIN News, the writers decry the use of "abusive, derogatory language," and argue that the AVMA is uniquely qualified and compelled to criticize Yoho, notwithstanding the association's description of itself as nonpartisan, because of its financial support for his congressional campaigns.

They say Yoho "has leaned on his thirty years in veterinary medicine as a demonstration of his character." They want the AVMA to denounce his words to show that the profession "is not to be used as a political prop."

The association is also the target of an online petition, started five days ago. It demands that the AVMA "denounce Rep. Ted Yoho for his profound lack of professionalism and poor reflection upon the veterinary community." As of this afternoon, it had garnered more than 4,100 signatures toward its goal of 5,000.

Not all veterinarians are heaping scorn on Yoho and the AVMA. In a discussion on the private message boards of the Veterinary Information Network, an online community for the profession and parent of the VIN News Service, a handful of practitioners among many discussants withheld judgment of Yoho, saying that the details of the interaction were in dispute and the media coverage unreliable.

Some critics of the AVMA on Facebook drew a contrast between the AVMA post and the announcement this weekend by Bread for the Word, a Christian nonprofit organization that strives to reduce world hunger and for which Yoho served on the board of directors. On Saturday, that organization announced it had requested and accepted Yoho's resignation.

The statement reads, in part: "We believe that Rep. Ted Yoho's recent actions and words as reported in the media are not reflective of the ethical standards expected of members of our Board of Directors."

Like the AVMA, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges has worked with Yoho and other members of the Congressional Veterinary Medicine Caucus to advocate for its interests in Washington, D.C. But unlike the AVMA, the AAVMC posted a statement on its website, dated Friday, condemning Yoho's reported behavior. The statement reads in part:

"The AAVMC condemns the reported language and tone of the encounter between Rep. Ted Yoho and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as described in the media. Disrespectful, misogynistic behavior is not acceptable under any circumstances. Veterinarians have a special responsibility to uphold the highest standards of professional conduct and to preserve the dignity of the veterinary medical profession.

"Women often hear derogatory and abusive language that is directed at them. This experience is likely familiar to the many women who are veterinarians and veterinary medical students. It is especially important that we publicly affirm the dignity and equality of women to ensure the success of our profession. If we are to be champions of diversity and inclusivity, then we must live those values each and every day, without exception."

The Women's Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative also posted a statement on its Facebook page. It reads:

"On a daily basis, women hear derogatory and abusive language directed at them, and the veterinary profession is not an exception. Our instinct is to chalk it up to just another day. The truth is, however, that words have power. The incident that occurred between Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and one of our own, Rep. Ted Yoho, is a reminder that we still have work to do.

"These words and actions are not about politics. It is a reminder that we need to look at how we treat each other as people."


VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email news@vin.com.



Information and opinions expressed in letters to the editor are those of the author and are independent of the VIN News Service. Letters may be edited for style. We do not verify their content for accuracy.



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