WASHINGTON – Democrats continue to question the leadership of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (search), but some corners are wondering whether the outrage should focus on Democratic Rep. Pete Stark (search), a central figure in last week's heated argument.
The facts are still in dispute about what happened in last Friday's committee meeting to mark up pension funds legislation. At the time, Democrats objected to Thomas, R-Calif., whisking through approval by voice vote on a bill Democrats have said they had not had a chance to review. The standoff ended with Thomas calling the police to remove the Democrats from the committee library and Democrats storming to the House floor to offer a resolution disapproving of Thomas' actions.
Not in dispute over the events that led up to the House debate that ensued are the heated remarks by Stark, D-Calif., who was left in the committee room to hold down the fort while Democrats strategized on their game plan.
While no cameras recorded the event, a stenographer took down every word Stark uttered. Republican Rep. Kenny Hulshof recited them back on the House floor.
"'You little fruitcake, you little fruitcake, I said you are a fruitcake,'" Hulshof, R-Mo., read from the unofficial transcript.
Stark directed the word — considered by some to be a gay slur —- at Republican Rep. Scott McInnis, who is married and by all accounts not gay.
Republican sources also claim that during the chaotic scene in the committee, Stark fired another gay slur in the direction of Chairman Thomas. The word is too vulgar to print in full, but the last half of it is "sucker."
Now, one Republican wants to know where is the outrage at the Democrat for his seemingly intolerant remarks.
"This isn't the first time. That's the problem here. The Democrats fail to recognize this is an ongoing problem," said Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla.
Stark has a long history of making outrageous remarks. He once called Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson "a whore," and said former Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan is "a disgrace to his race."
Foley questioned whether Democrats get a pass when it comes to casting aspersions, and whether there is indeed a double standard.
"I trust that you would understand that if a Republican said that, there would be a public lynching," Foley said.
But Stark told Fox News the racket over last week's outburst is much ado about the wrong thing.
"'Fruitcake' means inept, crazy, a nut cake to me," Stark explained.
And instead of condemning Stark, Human Rights Campaign (search) seemed to agree.
A spokesman from the gay activists group, usually quick to condemn hints of slight or slur against the gay community, defended the hot-headed lawmaker, saying he probably used the word to mean McInnis was nutty.
"I think Congressman Stark's use of the word, he probably regrets having used it. I think he meant nothing by it, but I think in the 2003 context, it's probably a poor choice of words. But it's also important to note that Congressman Stark is one of the gay community's staunchest allies," said Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign.
Mark Mead, Director of Public Affairs for the Log Cabin Republicans (search), a gay organization, said Stark's language is unbecoming of any congressional member.
"We're disappointed when any member of Congress, Democrat or Republican, uses insulting words. It's particularly egregious when we're at a time of war and the Ways and Means Committee needs to focus with the president on jump-starting the American economy," Mead said.
Stark issued a statement in which he claimed that his passions got the better of him.
"Sometimes I feel so passionate about an issue that I am not as diplomatic as I should be ... I did exchange words that were not becoming of my office. I regret that," he said.
While many seem to be letting the whole outburst go, the dust-up in the Ways and Means Committee is not over yet.
Democrats are still complaining that Thomas acted improperly by calling police to evict them from the library, and have said that the rights of the minority party are being trampled.
Some Republicans on Capitol Hill are also now quietly whispering that Thomas, often cited for his curt words and cutting behavior, has become a liability and should be replaced as chairman.
Fox News' Brian Wilson contributed to this report.