In the wake of a near brawl in the U.S. House of Representatives last week, a Democratic congressman has been forced to explain his use of seemingly antigay remarks. On Friday, California representative Fortney "Pete" Stark hurled several insults at Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.) during a dispute over pension legislation. "You little wimp," Stark said to McInnis. "Come on. Come over here and make me. I dare you, you little fruitcake. I said you are a fruitcake." Following the display, Republican committee chairman Bill Thomas of California actually summoned Capitol police. Democrats, claiming that the pension bill had been changed overnight without their knowledge, had moved into an adjoining library to discuss their response, leaving Stark behind to try to slow progress on the legislation. That was when Stark began delivering his invective. The Californian later issued a statement acknowledging using "words that were not becoming." A number of gay rights leaders called the remarks homophobic.
Thomas planned to speak on the House floor Wednesday about his role in the partisan fracas, and several fellow Republicans said they hoped he would express contrition for contributing to the scene. Several Republicans accused minority Democrats, however, of adopting a deliberate strategy of trying to goad Thomas into losing his temper. Pointing to Stark's behavior in the quarrel, they said not all the blame belonged to the chairman. Democrats claim the police were called to evict them from the library before Stark verbally attacked McInnis. Some Republicans say the police were called out of fear that Stark might instigate a physical conflict. Democrats, furious that the police were called, forced a vote on the House floor later in the day on a proposal to chastise Thomas and have the pension bill sent back to committee. Republicans held ranks to defeat that vote, but the squabble was the subject of several meetings Monday and Tuesday, and Democrats maneuvered to have a second vote on Wednesday.