KWAME HOLMAN: Partisan politics boiled over in the House Ways and Means Committee this morning, spilling onto the House floor this afternoon. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi:
REP. NANCY PELOSI, Minority Leader: My colleagues, it is clear from the debate that the Republicans have a major problem with the Democratic process.
KWAME HOLMAN: Texas Republican Kevin Brady:
REP. KEVIN BRADY: What I witnessed was a profanity-laced, angry, degrading physical confrontation that was growing in volume, not lessening.
KWAME HOLMAN: It actually began last night at midnight, when Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas decided to introduce his new pension reform bill, and push it through the committee today. Angry Democrats demanded they be given time to read the 90-page bill, and left the room to do so in the committee library. Washington State's Jim McDermott:
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: The chairman objected to our efforts to slow down the process so we could figure it out. We used a parliamentary move to simply read the bill. It's in the rules. It's our right in the minority to do that. And when he tried to obstruct us, we went into the library. And it all escalated after that.
KWAME HOLMAN: Only California Democrat Pete Starke remained in the committee room with the Republicans, and that's when tensions rose. Chairman Thomas moved to an immediate vote, and passed his bill with the Democrats out of the room. Starke objected and exchanged words with Thomas, and then with Colorado Republican Scott McInnis.
REP. SCOTT McINNIS: That particular individual threatened me with physical harm. It was clear there was going to be fairly prompt disorder beyond the magnitude that was anticipated when the member of the minority made his first comments.
KWAME HOLMAN: Missouri Republican Kenny Hulsof read Stark's comments from the committee transcript.
REP. KENNY HULSOF: You little fruitcake, you little fruitcake. I said you are a fruitcake.
KWAME HOLMAN: Here's Democrat Pete Stark's version of what happened.
REP. PETE STARK: There was some altercation between myself and a Republican members who told me to shut up, and I used inappropriate language in response to his telling me to shut up, but that had nothing to do with the fact that Mr. Thomas ignored my objection when he asked unanimous consent to stop reading and called the police to throw the Democrats out.
KWAME HOLMAN: It's unclear exactly when that happened, but Chairman Thomas did call the Capitol police, and asked that they restore order and chase the Democrats from the library. North Dakota Democrat Earl Pomeroy was in the room. What was the reaction of you Democrats in the room?
REP. EARL POMEROY: There was a pretty strong reaction. We felt like someone had called the capitol police to evict us from the library. Of course, that didn't go down very well.
KWAME HOLMAN: New York's Charles Rangel, the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, was in the room as well.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: The sergeant of arms came and said he was advised by the capitol police that the chairman of the ways and means committee asked that we be removed from the room. And I said we were not going to be removed. And the sergeant of arms said he thought that was an issue that should be resolved by members of Congress and members from the committee.
KWAME HOLMAN: Florida Republican Mark Foley defended the actions of Chairman Thomas.
REP. MARK FOLEY: There were some allegations that the police were called to force the Democrats out of the room which was not the case, but tempers were starting to flare in the committee room itself. And Mr. Thomas was concerned, and he called the sergeant at arms and not the police. The police operate on behalf of the sergeant at arms, and he was concerned abut the decorum of the committee itself.
KWAME HOLMAN: At mid-afternoon, Democrats brought to the House floor a resolution that would officially disapprove of Chairman Thomas' conduct in the committee meeting, and invalidate the committee's passage of the pension bill.
SPOKESMAN: As Democrats, as members of this House, the people's house, we will not get lost in a sea of despair. We will continue to stand up and fight for what is right and for what is fair. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
KWAME HOLMAN: But even though dozens of members already had left the capitol for the weekend, Republicans had on hand enough of their majority to vote down the Democratic resolution.
SPOKESMAN: Yeas 170, nays are 143.
KWAME HOLMAN: Members left the capitol late this afternoon, later than usual for a Friday, after an unusual display of partisan disharmony.