WASHINGTON – Capitol Police (search) officers are supposed to protect members of Congress, but Friday they were called in by one House chairman to oust some Democratic members from a committee library.
Hours of rancor later, the conflict ended in a failed full House vote to reprimand House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas.
The controversy began when Thomas, R-Calif., quickly gaveled through a committee vote on a pension finances bill that Democrats say they had not had enough time to review.
To review the bill, Democrats congregated in the panel's library off the main committee room while Rep. Pete Stark (search), D-Calif., the only Democrat left in the room, objected.
At that point, Thomas said Stark's motion came too late, to which Stark replied by crudely questioning Thomas' intelligence and squabbling with committee Republican Scott McInnis, who stood up for Thomas.
"That particular individual threatened me with physical harm," said McInnis, R-Colo., referring to Stark.
The committee reporter captured the essence of Stark's less-than-soaring rhetoric, read on the House floor by Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo.
"'Oh, you think you are big enough to make me, you little wimp? Come over here and make me. I dare you,'" Hulshof recited.
According to the stenographer's transcript, the room then broke out in laughter, at which point Stark raged, "You little fruitcake, you little fruitcake. I said you are a fruitcake."
According to a Democratic complaint, after Stark's outburst, Thomas — through staff — ordered "the United States Capitol Police (search) to remove minority-party members of the committee from [an adjacent library] during the meeting, causing the United States Capitol Police thereupon to confront the minority-party members of the committee."
What followed was a ruling by the House sergeant-at-arms' (search) office that Capitol Police did not have the authority to evict Democrats from the library. The two sides then proceeded to the House floor to condemn each other on the record.
Outraged Democrats accused Thomas of an abuse of power.
"We will not be intimidated. We will not be immobilized. We live in a democracy and not a police state," said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.
"This is what Republicans have come to in the running of this House. If they don't like what we say even in a private meeting, they'll try to have us arrested," said Rep. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., introduced a resolution that not only says the House "disapproves of the manner in which Representatives Thomas conducted the markup of legislation," but finds that the bill that started the whole conflict be considered invalid because it had not been properly ordered out of the committee for a full House vote.
Republicans insist that Thomas was right to call Capitol Police after the outburst from Stark.
"I would have called the sergeant-at-arms to restore order," said Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz.
"What I am very unhappy about is the fact that this resolution has even been brought to the floor. It is an embarrassment to this institution," said Rep. Phil English, R-Pa.
In the end, Republicans succeeded in having the Democratic measure tabled on a strict party-line vote, effectively ending the matter. The Ways and Means Committee (search) also recorded approval for the $50 billion pension fund bill that allows Americans to put more tax-deferred income into retirement accounts and to shield it longer from the Internal Revenue Service. Companies will also be allowed to pay less into their pension funds.
Fox News' Brian Wilson and Jim Mills and The Associated Press contributed to this report.