Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Calif.) told the House yesterday he was wrong to call Health and Human Services Secretary Louis W. Sullivan "a disgrace to his race," but repeated his charge that Sullivan has become no more than a rubber stamp for Bush administration policies that do not help the disadvantaged.

"To the secretary, I have to say I blew it," said Stark. "I should not have brought into the discussion his race, because it obscures the fact he is carrying a bankrupt policy for an administration {that} has been impacting the poor and minorities in this country."

Sullivan, who is black, demanded an apology after Stark, who is white, made his initial remarks at a news conference Thursday.

In a Los Angeles speech later, Sullivan condemned what he called Stark's "racist declaration" and said he intended to "go right on saying what I feel."

The White House called Stark's remarks "ill-tempered," "bigoted" and "shameful," and sources said President Bush called Sullivan in Los Angeles yesterday to express his support. The HHS secretary has been in California on a speaking tour.

Stark's remarks to the House came after House Republican Leader Robert H. Michel (Ill.), in a brief floor speech shortly before the House took up the civil rights bill yesterday, called Stark's attack on Sullivan "as bizarre as it is deplorable" and "racially insulting."

Michel said, "To gratuitously drag in Secretary Sullivan's race in a dispute over policy brings discredit upon this institution."

Michel then demanded that Stark apologize to Sullivan.

Stark, chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on health and an 18-year veteran of the House, has become increasingly frustrated by the administration's opposition to national health insurance, abortion rights, the parental leave bill and other health-related proposals.

In his attack on Sullivan Thursday, Stark said Sullivan had adopted conservative policies at the bidding of Office of Management and Budget Director Richard G. Darman and White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu.

Sullivan won cheers from the National Association of Black Journalists convention when he responded before his speech. "I guess I should feel ashamed because Congressman Stark thinks I'm a good Negro," he said. "Well, let me tell all the Pete Starks, wherever they are. . . . that this is not the 1890s, this is the 1990s, and none of us can afford to have any more good Negroes."

Sullivan said he felt "frustration. . . to be unable to express my own views without being subjected to race-based criticism by those who think we are not ready to accept independent thinking by a black man."

In his remarks on the House floor yesterday, Stark said administration policy hurts the disadvantaged "by denying them decent medical care; by turning away from job-training programs . . . those who are mostly minorities who are impacted by the bankrupt economic policies of the administration."

The administration also harms the disadvantaged, Stark said, "by discharging people from the military and refusing to provide them the extended benefits they need for unemployment; by denying poor women abortions, and by turning around a man who otherwise in his own personal philosophy would have supported Roe v. Wade. And to be led by the likes of John Sununu and Mr. Darman down the path of darkness is wrong, and I apologize for obscuring that."

After his remarks, Stark was booed by Republicans on the floor.

Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.) praised Sullivan on the floor and said later in an interview that to call the HHS secretary "a 'disgrace to his race' is an absolute atrocity. The House should rise up and condemn that kind of language. My anger is enhanced by Pete Stark's tawdry little performance on the floor of the House. . . . You don't say a racist expression is wrong because it distracts people."

Rep. Willis D. Gradison Jr. (Ohio), the senior Republican on Stark's subcommittee, said on the floor, "I too rise to express my outrage at the intemperate and outrageous personal attack" on Sullivan.

In a statement, Democratic National Committee Chairman Ronald H. Brown, who is black, said, "I am sure Congressman Stark's intentions were not to cloud the HHS department and this administration's record with racial charges but rather to highlight the Bush administration's outrageous policies. I believe he clarified his original intent in remarks today. I'm glad he did."

Brown also said, "I do not believe Dr. Sullivan is a disgrace to his race."

Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, was unavailable for comment. The caucus's former chairman, Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Calif.), said, "You can't question Pete Stark on matters of race. I think he recognized he made a mistake by making a racial reference. I don't think he meant to offend anyone in a racial context. Having realized he made a mistake, he apologized."

Staff writer Gwen Ifill contributed to this report from California.