Though it didn't come to fisticuffs, so heated was the exchange between the two debating candidates for a San Fernando, California congressional seat Thursday night that a police officer got up on stage to separate the two.
During the debate Thursday at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, two incumbent Democratic congressmen -Rep. Brad Sherman and Rep. Howard Berman- got into a verbal disagreement over the correct author of the immigration legislation known as the DREAM Act.
"Luis Gutierrez introduced the bill, you didn't," Sherman shouted at his opponent, claiming that Berman was trying to take credit for the immigration bill.
At one point as the back and forth escalated, Sherman yelled "You want to get into this?" at his opponent. He then stepped next to Berman and forcefully put his arm around him.
The crowd cheered and jeered. And a police officer stepped onto the stage gesturing for the two to separate while the debate moderator tried to calm the conversation. The law enforcement officer kept his smile while the two kept jawing and pointing at each other.
After the heated exchange, the debate continued without incident.
Video of the altercation was posted on The Los Angeles Times website.
Rep. Gutierrez, D- Illinois came to his colleague's defense in a statement released Friday.
In a statement, Gutierrez explained that he introduced a version of the DREAM Act "many years ago," but the current version introduced in 2010 is Berman's.
"I was the first to introduce a bill that legalized undocumented students many years ago, but the DREAM Act that passed the House and the DREAM Act that the House has considered for more than a decade is Berman and [Sen. Dick] Durbin's bill," Gutierrez said in the statement.
The current legislation would grant citizenship to children who come to the United States illegally if they join the military or enroll in college.
"When I am in Los Angeles next week campaigning for Howard Berman's reelection, I will tell everyone that I support Howard Berman because of his authorship of the DREAM Act and the crucial, leadership role Howard Berman has played in every major piece of immigration legislation under consideration in the House. Howard is our champion," Gutierrez said.
Both Sherman and Guiterrez, along with 114 other members cosponsored the legislation that is currently stuck in committee.
Both campaigns put out competing accounts of the incident.
The Berman campaign released a statement asking, "Has Brad Sherman lost his mind?"
"At a debate in front of local college students Congressman Brad Sherman loses his mind and acts like a bully," Brandon Hall, senior adviser to the Berman campaign said in a statement. "This speaks directly to his temperament that is totally unsuitable for anyone, especially for a member of Congress."
The Sherman campaign shot back saying the Berman campaign exaggerated and mischaracterized the sequence of events during the incident. Sherman's campaign said the incident did not escalate when the Congressman put his arm around Berman, but rather after Berman said, referring to Sherman, "He's either delusional or a liar."
The Sherman campaign called the remarks "so abusive the moderator took issue with them."
The Berman campaign pointedly noted in their statement that Sherman was once voted Washington's "meanest Congressman," and his office has one of the highest turnover rates in Congress.
The fight for the San Fernando Valley seat has been called one of the most bitter in the 2012 election cycle after redistricting pitted two one-time congressional allies against each other.
The two Democrats are competing against each other absent a Republican challenger because of California's top-two primary system that advanced the duo over the Republican challengers in June.
Berman has criticized his opponent for being a "me too congressman," signing on to popular legislation as a latecomer.
While Sherman has filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against Berman's brother in August, the Los Angeles Times reported. Sherman alleged that Berman overpaid his brother, Michael Berman for political consulting services for over two decades while spending much less on voter outreach in the Congressman's relatively uncontested reelection campaigns.
Both congressmen seemed to draw a semblance of a truce after the exchange last night.
"We are in a heated and expensive race. It's become a very emotional race," Berman said in a statement. "We [each] think that when smears are made, and when untruths are said, a person has to defend himself and that raises the intensity of the debate."
Sherman had a similar sentiment.
"The Pierce College debate was not conducted at the highest level. I regret my part in allowing emotions to distract from the exchange of views," Sherman said in a statement. "I agree with Howard Berman's statement at the Thursday debate."