A photo of young men wearing “Team Mitch” shirts appearing to touch and choke a cardboard cutout of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has prompted the freshman congresswoman to fire off a response to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-K.Y.
In the image, which made the rounds on the internet Monday, one of the men in the photo has his arm around the cutout and appears to be kissing it. Another looks to be putting his hand around the congresswoman’s neck, as if to choke her.
The photo was posted to Instagram with the caption: “break me off a piece of that.” The post has since been deleted.
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On Twitter, Ocasio-Cortez retweeted the photo to McConnell, who is up for re-election next year.
"Hey @senatemajldr — these young men look like they work for you," the congresswoman tweeted. "Just wanted to clarify: are you paying for young men to practice groping & choking members of Congress w/ your payroll, or is this just the standard culture of #TeamMitch?
The McConnell campaign said in a statement that it “in no way condones” the image, but it condemned "the far-left and the media" for writing about the incident.
“These young men are not campaign staff, they’re high schoolers and it’s incredible that the national media has sought to once again paint a target on their backs rather than report real, and significant news in our country,” said Kevin Golden, McConnell’s campaign manager, in the statement.
The picture was taken over the weekend at the 139th Annual Fancy Farm Picnic in Kentucky, a political event attended by both Democrats and Republicans.
One of the young men involved appeared to apologize online, posting a picture of a note-card that says, “I was wrong ... I’m sorry." In his caption, he wrote: “My friends and I sincerely apologize to Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, Senator McConnell, to our school, St. Jerome Parish, and our community for our insensitive actions at Fancy Farm this past weekend.”
NBC News has reached out to the men in the photo for comment via Instagram and the school referred to in the young man's apology. The Rev. Darrell Venters of St. Jerome Catholic Church told NBC News the young men in the photo do not attend his parish.
Caroline Radnofsky is a senior reporter for NBC News' Social Newsgathering team based in London.