House GOP mulled ‘present’ strategy on abortion amendment


GOP leaders were surprised late Friday night when Democratic leaders decided to allow a vote on the anti-abortion-rights language crafted by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.).

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A handful of GOP lawmakers, including Reps. John Shadegg (Ariz.), Steve King (Iowa) and Michele Bachmann (Minn.), floated a shift in strategy, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

The GOP members suggested the conference vote “present” on the Stupak amendment, knowing it did not have the Democratic votes to pass.

“If you strip government-funded abortion from the bill then it becomes a much easier for Democrats to vote for the bill. If you are a Democrat from a conservative district [or a] religious district, a swing district, you’d rather have to vote for a bill that doesn’t have the government-funded abortions,” a source involved in the discussions said.

The strategy of voting present had been successfully employed before by House Republicans. In 2008, most of the conference voted present on a war-funding bill. The strategy effectively killed the bill; the measure was defeated 141-149 as 132 GOP legislators voted present.

But unlike that bill, leaders did not have a lot of time to discuss voting present on an amendment being pushed by Catholic bishops and right-leaning groups staunchly opposed to abortion rights. Moreover, some of these groups made it clear they were “scoring” the measure so anything less than a yes vote could jeopardize a member’s perfect anti-abortion-rights rating.

In the end, Shadegg was the lone Republican to vote present on the Stupak amendment. Sixty-four Democrats and 176 Republicans voted for the amendment. The underlying healthcare bill then passed 220-215.

“When the Stupak language is stripped in conference, and [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.] will strip it, the supposedly pro-life Democrats will be pressured by Pelosi and Obama to vote yes on the conference report more intensely than ever. When Pelosi and [President Barack] Obama are in their final press to enact the bill into law, they will tell these purportedly ‘pro-life’ Democrats they’re safe from attack by Right to Life because they voted for the Stupak amendment,” Shadegg wrote in a statement posted on his website Sunday.

Some GOP officials noted that Stupak promised to vote yes on healthcare reform if he was granted a floor vote on his amendment — even if his amendment had lost.

These sources argue that the underlying bill would have likely passed regardless of whether Republicans had voted present.

Others say that abortion-rights opponents in the Democratic Caucus did not make that vow, pointing out that just a few more Democratic “no” votes could have killed the bill.