- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2003

The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, tears welling in his eyes, apologized yesterday to Democrats for being “just plain stupid” for calling the Capitol Police to evict Democrats from a meeting room Friday.

“Every member has just as much right to be here and be heard as any other,” said Rep. Bill Thomas, California Republican, accepting blame for a “breakdown of order and decorum” at the committee meeting and admitting that his pride and passion got in the way.

“I learned a very painful lesson Friday,” said Mr. Thomas, one of the most powerful men in Congress because he presides over all tax-law and most Medicare and Social Security legislation.

“Those outside the House who would debase [us] were given every reason to do so. As my mother once told me, ‘When they were passing out moderation, you were hiding behind the door,’” he said.

Mr. Thomas, however, insisted that his decision to call the sergeant-at- arms of the House to “restore order” in the meeting “was proper and appropriate.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, indicated that while Democrats accept Mr. Thomas’ apology, the matter may not be dropped.

“I thought Mr. Thomas’ emotional apology addressed some of the issues, but not all,” Mrs. Pelosi said, noting that Republicans were giving what she considered an erroneous version of Friday’s events on the floor of the House, “and [Mr. Thomas] did not stop them.”

Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat and ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, thanked Mr. Thomas for the “very difficult task” of “expressing regret and poor judgment.”

But he insisted that “the minority has a right to be heard,” and hoped this incident will “improve the quality of civility” in House proceedings.

Both Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Rangel agreed yesterday to withdraw resolutions to reprimand Mr. Thomas.

The furor erupted Friday when Mr. Thomas was presiding over pension legislation. Democrats claimed they didn’t have enough time to consider a substitute bill that Republicans were poised to push through, so they gathered in a library adjoining the committee room to discuss parliamentary strategy.

Left behind to stall for time by forcing Mr. Thomas to read the entire bill was Rep. Pete Stark, California Democrat.

Mr. Thomas quickly dispatched with the reading and gaveled the bill through without giving Mr. Stark a chance to object. That led to a verbal confrontation between Mr. Stark and Rep. Scott McInnis, Colorado Republican.

Mr. Stark reportedly used profanity, Mr. McInnis told him to “shut up,” and Mr. Stark then challenged Mr. McInnis to a fight.

“You think you’re big enough to make me. Come over here and make me, you little wimp. I dare you.” Mr. Stark said, according to a transcript of the hearing. “You are a little fruitcake. You are a little fruitcake. I said you are a fruitcake.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Thomas had dispatched first the Capitol Police, then the sergeant-at-arms to remove the Democrats from the library.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said he appreciated Mr. Thomas’ apology, but “there needs to be some discussion about the proper use of the police.”

Mr. Hoyer was also not convinced that Mr. Thomas will sincerely attempt to moderate his manner.

“One statement does not comity make,” Mr. Hoyer said. “The real issue is whether the House majority will begin to accord fair treatment to the minority.”

Yesterday afternoon, Mr. Thomas appeared to be back to his old self. Emerging from a bipartisan meeting with the president and fellow Medicare conferees who were all singing the praises of bipartisanship, he chastised fellow lawmakers who have written letters demanding that certain provisions be included in the final Medicare prescription drug bill.

Mr. McInnis said he would pursue an ethics complaint against Mr. Stark — who he said should “seek professional help” — if Democrats continue to press this matter

“[The library] issue has been put to rest,” Mr. McInnis said. “What has not been put to rest has been Mr. Stark’s behavior.”

Amy Fagan contributed to this report.


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