Rep. Brad Sherman didn’t throw any punches at Rep. Howard Berman during their debate Thursday at Pierce College, but at one point, he certainly looked angry enough to.
In an exceptionally heated moment near the end of a debate, Sherman placed his right arm around Berman’s shoulder and shouted at his senior colleague, “Howard, you want to get into this?”
Berman and Sherman have met for numerous debates in their lengthy, expensive, and closely watched member-on-member race for reelection in California’s 30th congressional race. While the tenor of those meetings has grown more contentious as the campaign has progressed, the altercation at Pierce College took it to a new level.
“At a debate in front of local college students Congressman Brad Sherman loses his mind and acts like a bully,” Brandon Hall, senior advisor to the Berman campaign said in the release. “This speaks directly to his temperament that is totally unsuitable for anyone, especially for a member of Congress. The Valley deserved better.”
The inciting incident came after Berman, for the second time in the debate, took credit for authoring the DREAM Act.
[FACT CHECK: Did Howard Berman Really Help Create The DREAM ACT]
That bill would allow some undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as young children to gain permanent residency provided that they met certain criteria.
Story continues after the jump.
Sherman forcefully disputed Berman’s first assertion, saying that Berman had not been an author of the bill. Later in the debate, Berman again asserted his authorship of the legislation, explaining that he had introduced a bill called The Student Adjustment Act in the House of Representatives and that its companion bill in the Senate had the better-known title.
Sherman stood up to deliver his response.
“Howard, Luis Gutierrez introduced the bill!” Sherman yelled into his microphone, referring to the Democratic Congressman from Illinois.
The 200-strong crowd, most of them students, began to cheer, egged on by the Sherman and Berman staffers and supporters standing near the back of the Great Hall.
“You didn’t, and the official records of Congress will prove you wrong,” Sherman said, gesticulating.
“Don’t you dare stand up here in the West San Fernando Valley--” Sherman said, and, as Berman took a few steps in his direction, added, “--and get in my face!”
Berman, who had been repeating the words, “You are wrong,” throughout Sherman’s outburst, was standing next to Sherman.
“Stay away from me!” Sherman yelled, appearing to step away from Berman, but then abruptly changed direction, approaching Berman and throwing his arm around his opponent. “Howard, you want to get into this?” Sherman yelled.
“Whoa, whoa,” Berman said, retreating.
Sherman’s strategist, Parke Skelton, attempted to shift some of the blame for the outburst onto Berman.
“Berman left his table and came over to Brad’s,” Skelton, who had not attended the debate, said. “He was standing there, calling Brad a liar and saying he was delusional. They got upset, they were both upset, and then they calmed down.”
A complete video of the debate, posted online a Livestream Web site, shows one perspective of the entire altercation.
In it, Berman, in the course of claiming credit for authoring the DREAM Act, saying that he believed Sherman knew Berman was the author. In explaining why Sherman was still contesting Berman’s claim of authorship, Berman said, “He is either delusional--,” but was prevented from continuing by the debate’s organizer and moderator, Denise Munro Robb, an assistant professor of political science at Pierce College.
Berman protested, which is when Sherman stood up and began yelling.
“I didn’t know they hated each other so much,” Robb said after the debate.
Los Angeles County Sherriff William Dunkin who ascended the stage to break up the two lawmakers during the altercation, placed his hand on Sherman’s back to calm him down.
“He was the one who was kinda talking loud,” Dunkin said, afterward.