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Rivals clash at Capitol Hill

Washington, July 19: The growing crisis here over Iraq was momentarily pushed to the background yesterday when disbelieving Americans watched in horror at the rare spectacle of the police being summoned to evict Democratic members of the House of Representatives from a portion of the Capitol building.

Even the sensational death of a British defence ministry scientist failed to make it to top news here as Congressmen belonging to rival parties abused each other and one stage came close to a physical altercation on the Capitol.

The incident comes two months after leaders of President Goerge W. Bush’s party in Texas sent out the state police to hunt down Opposition legislators and force them back into the state assembly to create a quorum.

Simmering trouble at the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee yesterday erupted when Scott McInnis, a 50 year-old Republican from Colorado, asked Fortney Stark a Demoract from California, 21 years his senior, to “shut up” during the meeting.

Stark exploded calling McInnis “a little wimp” and challening him: “Come on, come over here and make me, I dare you... You little fruitcake. You little fruitcake. I said you are a fruitcake”. But a confrontation was brewing from midnight the previous night when the panel’s chairman, Bill Thomas, released 90 pages of changes to a Bill, which the majority Republicans then wanted to ram through.

When the Republicans objected to even a reading of the legislation in the committee, Democrats left the meeting and adjourned to a library near the committee room to plan their strategy.

They left only Stark at the meeting to block the unanimous passing of the legislation. But even before Stark and McInnings clashed, the commitee chairman summoned the police to evict Democrats from the library.

The Democrats refused to be intimidated. The police made three trips in vain to the Capitol and back to their station, the third time wisely deciding to leave the eviction of legislators to the House Sergeant at Arms.

The Democrats, meanwhile, asked the law enforcers what they planned to do and insisted on not leaving the library. Eventually, the Sergeant at Arms told them that it was “a committee matter” and not one for him or for the police.

Meanwhile, Thomas pushed through the legislation in the committee without even giving Stark a chance to object, but the matter now moved to the full House, where the proceedings were suspended and Democrats moved a resolution on the incidents. They accused Democrats of running “a police state” and Nancy Pelosi, their floor leader, said her colleagues had suffered “an indignity no member should be expected to endure”.

The senior-most Democrat on the committee, Charles Rangel of New York, said the dispute was more about process than policy. “That is what this controversy is all about. They (Republicans) unilaterally pass bills” ignoring the Opposition altogether.

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