LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California congressman said Friday that he regrets forcefully grabbing another House member during a tense campaign debate but insists he was not threatening his rival with violence.
The confrontation Thursday between Democratic Reps. Brad Sherman and Howard Berman came during the stretch run of a nasty campaign for a Los Angeles-area seat.
"I touched him, I put my arm around his shoulder, I should not have done that," Sherman told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday.
He said the confrontation "is not emblematic of either of our careers."
But Berman told AP said Sherman was "parsing words to develop a new rationale for unhinged activity."
After years of debates in campaigns and Congress "I've never had anybody before come even close to threatening me or trying to start a fight," Berman said. "It was like in the eighth grade, 'You want to go over to the park on the corner and fight this out?'"
The taller Sherman seized the shoulder of the 71-year-old Berman during the debate at a San Fernando Valley college, yanked him toward his chest and shouted, "You want to get into this?"
The two men later stood nose-to-nose exchanging words before a sheriff's deputy emerged behind them and briefly placed his hand on Sherman's shoulder. Sherman sat down, and the debate resumed.
Sherman, 57, stopped short of blaming Berman for instigating the confrontation, but emphasized that Berman had walked across the stage and was shouting in his face.
Sherman said in the telephone interview that his supporters would not be distracted by the confrontation.
"They are not focused on a video that makes good entertainment television for somebody who wants to do a show about congressmen behaving badly," he said.
Berman's campaign said the congressman would respond later Friday.
The veteran lawmakers were pulled into the same district after a voter-approved independent panel redrew California's political boundaries. They were the top vote-getters in the June primary and went on to the general election because of California's new primary system, which sends the top two finishers to the runoff regardless of party affiliation.
Their race for the 30th district seat is one of eight same-party congressional runoffs on California's November ballot.