Thomas Apologizes, Rangel Accepts
WASHINGTON – House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (search) was humbled to near tears Wednesday as he addressed the House of Representatives, admitting he used poor judgment last week when he called Capitol Police to evict protesting Democrats from a committee library.
"I learned a very painful lesson on Friday. As members you deserve better judgment from me and you'll get it," said the usually prickly and supremely confident California representative.
"Moderation is required. For the remainder of my time, in this, the people's House, I want to rededicate my efforts to strengthening this institution as the embodiment of what is best about us. I need your help. And I invite it," he said.
Thomas' remarks followed a controversy that swelled Friday when a routine committee meeting ended in a partisan clash that spilled onto the House floor. Democrats objected to changes Republicans had made overnight in a pension bill, and filed into the adjoining committee library to consider their next move.
Thomas said he called the sergeant-at-arms after "a breakdown of order and decorum" in the committee room. He said he then asked the Capitol Police to ask Democrats to leave the library and congregate in their caucus room. Democrats still dispute the order of events.
Nonetheless, after his weepy apology, a sustained standing ovation greeted Thomas, who retreated to a corner out of camera range. There, he was warmly received by members from both sides of the aisle.
His remarks were followed by New York Rep. Charlie Rangel (search), ranking Democrat on the panel, and one of those asked to leave the library.
"Let's see if every committee and every member can say that in this House we are going to respect each other no matter how much we differ," Rangel said. "Whether we respect each other is what I think those that we leave this Congress to will respect us for."
One observer in the chamber described "a lot of love in the room" following the speeches. But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., did not stand after Thomas' speech and didn't seem to share the warm fuzzies of the moment.
"While I'm sympathetic to the generosity of spirit that it took for him to make those statements, and I respect the fact that he did that, it didn't mean that I had to stand up and cheer," she said at a press conference following the speeches.
Thomas apologized for calling the authorities, but he made no mention of the dust-up in the committee that grew worse when Rep. Pete Stark (search), D-Calif., who unsuccessfully tried to object to the motion to approve the pension fund bill, called a back-bench committee Republican a "wimp" and "a fruitcake."
Stark denies the charges, but said he may have used language unbecoming of a congressman. Fox News confirmed through five sources that Stark also called Thomas two names too vulgar to print.
Rangel wasn't in the room when that happened but conceded that Stark may have spoken out of line.
"He may have whispered it in his ear, but that would be improper no matter where it was done, and certainly in the Congress it would be improper."
The round of sincerity all came on a day when Democrats repeatedly delayed House business by requiring a slew of time-consuming procedural votes -- actions that are doing little to improve relations between Democrats and Republicans in the House.
"That's not the end of it in terms of where we go from here," Pelosi said, describing how the House would face a "week from hell" until the committee revisits the pension legislation.
Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., the target of Stark's insults on Friday, agreed all is not over. He said he would file a complaint with the ethics committee if Democrats pursue claims against Thomas.
"This guy needs professional help," he added, noting Stark's history of using demeaning terms to describe Republicans.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., released a statement saying that "one statement does not comity make."
But Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, sponsor of the pension bill that became caught in the dispute, said he hoped Thomas' remarks would lighten the mood.
"It should lower the temperature," Portman said.
Fox News' Brian Wilson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.