Rep. Bart Stupak to retire after last-second deal on healthcare

Rep. Bart Stupak is expected to announce his retirement Friday, weeks after his critical role in healthcare’s passage.

Stupak, the centrist Michigan Democrat who crafted a last-second deal on abortion that allowed President Barack Obama’s healthcare bill to pass the House and become law, will say during a press conference Friday morning that he won’t pursue reelection this fall.

Stupak has been wrestling with whether to retire for weeks, and the brutal healthcare fight certainly played a role in his decision.

A little more than a week before the healthcare bill was approved by the House, Stupak told The Hill that fighting the bill had been “a living hell.”

{mosads}Telephone lines to his office were jammed, and he and his wife received nasty calls at home.

“All the phones are unplugged at our house — tired of the obscene calls
and threats. She won’t watch TV,” Stupak said during the interview. “People saying they’re
going to spit on you and all this. That’s just not fun.” Stupak’s wife had reported receiving death threats.

Things didn’t get easier for Stupak after he reached a deal with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats that allowed his group of anti-abortion rights centrist Democrats to vote for the healthcare bill.

After the bill was approved, Stupak gave the Democrats argument on the House floor against a GOP motion to kill the bill.

A Republican lawmaker, Rep. Randy Neugebauer (Texas), shouted “baby killer” as Stupak was speaking. Neugebauer later apologized and said he was referring to the bill.

Stupak, first elected in 1992, opposed the Senate-approved healthcare bill under consideration by the House because he believed it would not prevent federal funds from subsidizing insurance plans that would cover abortion services. He and a small bloc of fellow Democrats said they would not vote for the bill unless it was changed.

To win Stupak and his core group over, Obama issued an executive order that said the healthcare bill would not change existing law preventing federal funds from going to abortion services.

Several anti-abortion rights groups said that was not enough, and accused Stupak of selling out.

Abortion rights supporters were also irked by the executive order decision.

Stupak had drawn challengers in this cycle, and fueled speculation that he might retire earlier this week by saying that he’d consult with his family before deciding to run for office again.

The congressman also suffered a personal tragedy in 2000 when his 17-year-old son killed himself the morning after his prom. Stupak subsequently held a hearing on Accutane, a prescription drug used by his son to treat acne that can have have adverse psychological effects, including suicide attempts. Restrictions on the use of the drug were tightened by the Food and Drug Administration in the wake of the hearing.

Stupak’s decision to retire adds another difficult seat to defend for Democrats already facing a tough election environment.

Stupak’s district includes much of northern Michigan, including the state’s Upper Peninsula, a rural area that is seen as Republican-leaning. Republicans will hope to pick up the seat, though The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder reports that Charlevoix County Commissioner Connie Saltonstall is the leading Democrat to fill Stupak’s spot in the race.

Obama won 50 percent of the presidential vote in Stupak’s district in 2008, compared to 48 percent for GOP candidate Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

This story was posted at 8:36 and updated at 9:15 a.m.

Tags Barack Obama John McCain Randy Neugebauer

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