By Jordy Yager - 03/23/10 12:00 AM EDT
A Texas Republican on Monday acknowledged he yelled out the words “baby killer” during a floor speech by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) on healthcare reform.
Rep. Randy Neugebauer said he was not calling the anti-abortion-rights Stupak a name, and instead was referring to the legislation.
“In the heat and emotion of the debate, I exclaimed the phrase ‘It’s a baby killer’ in reference to the agreement reached by the Democratic leadership,” Neugebauer said in a statement.
“While I remain heartbroken over the passage of this bill and the tragic consequences it will have for the unborn, I deeply regret that my actions were mistakenly interpreted as a direct reference to Congressman Stupak himself.”
Neugebauer added that “the House Chamber is a place of decorum and respect. The timing and tone of my comment last night was inappropriate.”
Stupak’s office said he had accepted Neugebauer’s apology, but added that he was concerned about members of Congress maintaining a sense of common decency.
“I also let him know that, while we all have had a very long week and tensions were high leading up to the vote Sunday night, I feel it is important for members to maintain decorum of the House,” Stupak said in a statement.
“Over the past year there have been a couple of incidents on the House floor where outbursts have tarnished Congress’s reputation, and I hope there are no further incidents.”
Neugebauer’s outburst reminded many of when Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted, “You lie!” at President Barack Obama during a joint address to Congress on healthcare last September.
In the days following, Wilson’s website crashed as it overloaded with correspondence and he raised thousands of dollars from supporters. On Monday, parts of Neugebauer’s website were also not loading, perhaps because they were overloading with traffic.
Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office did not comment on Neugebauer’s remarks, but a spokesman on Monday said Boehner was pleased with his conference’s conduct.
“My impression is that he was satisfied with the tone of the debate, which focused on the serious factual arguments against the Democrats’ job-killing government takeover bill,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner.
Neugebauer was upset over a deal that Stupak and other anti-abortion-rights Democrats made with the White House. The deal provided House Democratic leaders with the votes they needed to win approval of the Senate’s healthcare bill on Sunday.
Stupak won an executive order from the White House that states that the Senate healthcare bill will not change existing law that prevents federal funds from being used for elective abortion services.
Republicans argue the executive order does nothing to change the Senate bill, which they say could allow federal subsidies provided through a health insurance program to be used for abortion services.
The White House and congressional Democratic leaders insist this is not true, and Catholic groups are split on the issue.
Stupak has a strong anti-abortion-rights record, though some groups on that side of the abortion debate have criticized him for making the deal with the White House.
Neugebauer’s floor outburst, just minutes after the House approved the Senate healthcare bill, capped an emotional day on Capitol Hill in which those protesting the healthcare bill were urged on by Republican lawmakers.
Racial epithets were hurled at black lawmakers on Sunday, and anti-gay slurs were aimed at openly gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).
Hundreds of protesters gathered near the Capitol, and throughout the course of the week Capitol telephone lines were over capacity as people flooded lawmaker offices with calls, often getting a busy signal.
The temperature rose further as debate on the measure began on Sunday. U.S. Capitol Police arrested two Massachusetts men after they allegedly shouted, “Kill the bill!” from the public gallery above the House floor proceedings.
The two men are affiliated with the “Western Mass 912 Project” — an offshoot of Fox News commentator Glenn Beck’s group, “The 912 Project.”
Hearing a growing chorus of protesters outside, more than a dozen lawmakers took to the House’s south balcony on Sunday afternoon, where they towered over a crowd of hundreds, shouting, “Kill the bill.”
A Capitol Police officer who was working during the protests said that while the Republican cheers encouraged the crowd’s actions, he never felt that members or officers were in jeopardy.
Earlier in the weekend, protesters with the Tea Party movement shouted racial slurs at Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Andre Carson (D-Ind.), while at least one activist hollered anti-gay insults at Frank.
Boehner and other Republicans denounced the insults, and Boehner requested in a closed door meeting that fellow GOP members “behave like grown-ups” throughout the Sunday evening votes and not taunt Democrats, several lawmakers told The Hill.
But when Boehner took to the House floor, he let his emotions show as he shouted at Democrats.
“Look at how this bill was written. Can you say it was done openly with transparency and accountability, without backroom deals struck behind closed doors hidden from the people?
“Hell, no, you can’t!” he yelled.