Abortion foe from Texas says he regrets outburst

By Paul Kane
Tuesday, March 23, 2010; A08

Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.) acknowledged Monday that he is the lawmaker who yelled "Baby killer!" as a Democrat and fellow opponent of abortion explained why he would support health-care legislation. Neugebauer stood by his attack on the bill, saying he was representing the people of his district.

Ending a 15-hour mystery regarding who shouted the remark, the three-term representative from the vast counties of northwest Texas said he has apologized to Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who was speaking at the time. He said the debate brought out too much passion in his disagreement with the deal Stupak reached with President Obama and congressional leaders over abortion provisions in 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. 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 said in a statement.

Stupak questioned that. "I certainly took it as a personal attack on me," he said in a Fox News interview Monday. He lamented the "uncivilized behavior" during speeches that has surfaced in the past year.

In an interview with Lubbock, Tex., television station KCBD, Neugebauer said he believes that the Senate bill the House approved "is a baby-killing bill. And I don't like the language in that bill; it puts taxpayers, I think, in many ways funding abortions in this country. And even if you're pro-choice or pro-life, I don't think that many Americans think that their tax dollars should be going to fund abortions."

His outburst late Sunday came at the end of a weekend war of words, tense and sometimes ugly, both inside the chamber and outside on the Capitol grounds, and it drew immediate shouts of derision from Democrats, but no Republican claimed the comment. Neugebauer's allies declined to identify him Sunday night.

Democratic aides, growing angry at the silence, linked the comment to some of the heated rhetoric voiced by the thousands of "tea party" protesters who gathered around the Capitol over the weekend, including calls of racist and anti-gay terms at black and gay Democrats.

Neugebauer is an unlikely lawmaker to find the spotlight. Elected in a special election in spring 2003, his highest-level position is as ranking Republican on the Agriculture Committee's livestock, dairy and poultry subcommittee.

The moment served, in some ways, as a symbolic bookend to the infamous "You lie!" shout that came from another little-known Republican, Rep. Joe Wilson (S.C.), during Obama's September address before a joint session of Congress. Although the House admonished him -- Wilson apologized privately to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel but refused to apologize in the well of the House -- he briefly became a conservative icon, raising more than $2 million in a few weeks in September.

Over the weekend, one chant heard from tea party protesters was "You lie, you lie!"

Some colleagues defended Wilson last fall, noting that his charge was based on a controversial immigration provision in the legislation, but there were no Republicans defending what Neugebauer said.

"I condemn any manner of disrespect and name calling among my colleagues. While I am disappointed in Rep. Stupak's decision to vote for this legislation, I would never attack his character and decisions in such an unacceptable manner," Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.), who was seated one row in front of the Texas delegation, said in a Monday statement reiterating his denial that he made the remark.

Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.), also an initial suspect, quickly renounced the remark as votes were ongoing Sunday night. He told reporters the shout came from someone with a "Southern accent" and noted that the Texas delegation often sits a row behind the Californians.

That Stupak was the target galled the Democrats. His antiabortion views made him a key holdout on the legislation, and he and more than a half-dozen other Democrats backed it only after he secured a deal with Obama to issue an order reaffirming the ban on federal funding for abortions. The lengthy and often public negotiations isolated Stupak within his caucus, as he jeopardized the fate of the legislation. But his colleagues never doubted his Catholic faith and his opposition to abortion.

So, after they had already approved the major piece of health-care legislation on a 219 to 212 vote, Democrats entrusted Stupak with the role of speaking in opposition when the GOP offered its lone amendment to a revisions package -- the Republican amendment being mostly a reiteration of Stupak's own preferred legislative wording to restrict abortions. As he rose to speak, the former state trooper from Michigan's Upper Peninsula received a standing ovation from many of his colleagues.

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