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California: Things Get Touchy at Berman-Sherman Debate

Rep. Howard Berman (left) speaks during a candidate forum with Rep. Brad Sherman on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Howard Berman (left) speaks during a candidate forum with Rep. Brad Sherman on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

WOODLAND HILLS, Calif. — Rarely is politics described as a contact sport in the literal sense, but the exception happened today toward the end of a feisty debate between Democratic Reps. Brad Sherman and Howard Berman at a community college in the San Fernando Valley.

Things escalated toward the end of the debate, during an argument over Berman’s leadership on the DREAM Act. The debate was held in front of a largely Hispanic crowd of more than 200 enthusiastic Pierce College students and members of the community, 

With Berman already standing, Sherman stood up and shouted into the microphone that Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) sponsored the bill. Berman stepped toward Sherman so they were nearly nose to nose and said Sherman was wrong.

“Don’t you dare stand up here .. .and get in my face,” Sherman said. He then wrapped his arm around Berman’s shoulder, looked him in the eye and — still holding the microphone to his mouth — said: “You want to get into this? Get out of my face.”

The already boisterous crowd went wild. That’s when a member of the sheriff’s department stepped in to make sure the two were separating, which they were voluntarily. The debate went on from there as if nothing happened, with one more question asked and then closing statements.

Things bounced down this rocky path when Sherman took exception to Berman calling him a liar.

“That is why, see, Brad … he lies,” Berman said. “He knows that I was House author of the DREAM Act, and he says, ‘He’s not the House author of the DREAM Act.’ He knows I was, it was my bill that passed the House. Why does he say that? … In the end, you can’t fool all the people all the time.”

Berman continued: “The question is whether you folks in the 30th district want a guy who leads on these issues or a guy who joins as a co-sponsor. If there’s a little attack, sometimes he waivers. He was for Iraq, but he really wasn’t for Iraq. Is this what you want?”

“I think I need to respond to that kind of personal attack,” Sherman said. “When the DREAM Act was introduced in Congress, it didn’t have his name on it.”

Sherman then got back to discussing Berman’s efforts on behalf of the entertainment industry, which is a source of pride for Berman. He criticized Berman’s leadership on the Stop Online Piracy Act, saying it was “one thing that he did do that had the worst opening since ‘Ishtar.'” The reference to the 1980s movie went over better with the older crowd at the debate on Wednesday.

“Here’s the story. A lie unanswered is wrong. When I introduced the bill, and I was the first person to introduce the bill … we called it the Student Adjustment Act,” Berman said. “Sen. [Dick] Durbin introduced the companion bill in the Senate, called it the DREAM Act. So he wants you to think that I’m making this up, when, he’s either delusional —”

That’s when Sherman stood up.

The Berman campaign released a short clip of the event that was taken by their video tracker.

“It’s become a very emotional race. You think? But when smears are made and untruths are said, a person has to defend himself,” Berman said in his closing remarks. After making the argument that he is the more effective Member of Congress, Berman left the stage before Sherman spoke. They did not shake hands.

“Howard and I have put our arm around each other a few times on the House floor,” Sherman said. “I look forward to a renewal of our friendship, which I’m not sure is at a high point today.”

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