Not Your Typical Markup: Democratic Walkout Prompts Threats, Taunts and Police Response

Posted July 18, 2003 at 2:29pm

Flaring tempers, a walkout by committee Democrats and the summoning of the Capitol Police turned Friday’s Ways and Means Committee session into high political drama.

What exactly happened has become a story of “he said/she said,” but what began as a pension reform bill markup likely will exacerbate the partisan bickering enveloping the House.

Democrats, who have been complaining for months that Republicans are trampling their rights, charged the incident is an example of how the GOP continues to abuse its majority status. Republicans, on the other hand, pleaded innocence, saying they simply followed the rules.

It started in the morning when Democrats, who say they needed to discuss strategy, left the Ways and Means meeting during the reading of the Portman-Cardin bill. They were upset about receiving the substitute version of the bill after midnight, and receiving even later notice of the markup, allowing only a short time to review the legislation.

Leaving behind Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) to object to any attempts by Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) to pass the bill, Democrats adjourned to the library adjoining the committee room.

Shortly thereafter, Thomas suspended the reading of the bill and moved to passage over Stark’s objections, according to witnesses.

Republicans say he did not make his objection in time. Democrats say he did.

“He basically ignored my objection,” Stark said.

“I certainly think I [made it in time],” he added. “I had two cups of coffee this morning. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t reading the paper.”

Rep. Clay Shaw (R-Fla.) claimed that Stark was not paying attention and in fact left the room after Thomas enabled the committee to move to passage.

Democrats allege that Thomas instructed a staffer to call the police to remove the Democratic Members from the library.

“I think he felt a little bit like Custer,” Stark said of the officer who responded to the call.

The Capitol Police confirm they received a disturbance call and dispatched officers to the committee room. Upon arriving, they determined it was an “internal matter” and left without making a report, police spokeswoman Jessica Gissubel said.

She did not say who made the call.

Rangel said the officer told him he was dispatched to remove Democrats from the library.

Republicans countered that Thomas called the Sergeant-at-Arms to restore order to the markup after Stark threatened Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.).

The dispute spilled onto the chamber floor when Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) introduced a resolution to admonish Thomas’ action and consider the bill improperly reported out of committee. The whole ordeal continued to keep Members in session hours after they were set to adjourn for the week.

It was on the House floor where Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) read back the committee transcript of the Stark-McInnis exchange.

Stark reportedly said to McInnis: “Are you big enough to make me you little wimp? Why don’t you come over here and make me; I dare you. You little fruitcake. You little fruitcake.”

Rep. Jerry Kleczka (D-Wis.) said that was preceded by McInnis telling Stark to “shut up.”

As to McInnis’ claim — he said he felt physically threatened by Stark, which was the reason Thomas called the Sergeant-at-Arms — Kleczka responded: “The chairman was afraid the 30-year [McInnis] his junior was going to get beat up [by Stark]?”

Democrats said that was a sham as the officers never responded to the committee room — where Stark and McInnis where — but rather to the library where the Democrats were holed up.

Furthermore, they contend that according to the transcript, Thomas never asked if anyone objected before deeming the bill passed.

Thomas has been silent since the markup and did not take to the floor to speak.

Stark spoke to reporters before debate on the resolution began but did not address the comments he made to McInnis at that time or on the floor.