There was a moment there — ok, maybe more than a moment — in which the fate of the health care bill was in the hands of Rep. Bart Stupak. The Michigan Democrat, a leading pro-life advocate in his party, forced an anti-abortion amendment on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last November; had she not agreed to allow it to proceed to a vote, the entire package could have gone down to defeat.
However, by the time the House was having its second go-around on the bill last week, the amendment was nowhere to be found, and Stupak was threatening to withhold his support, along with that of a dozen or so of his followers. Pelosi refused Stupak's demand that she agree to another vote on abortion, but he came on board at the last minute when President Obama agreed to sign an executive order ensuring that no federal money can be used for elective abortions under the new bill. (Obama signed it today.)
Stupak was already facing an August primary challenge from Connie Saltonstall, a former teacher and ex-Charlevoix County commissioner who is angry at Stupak's abortion views but angrier that it almost took down the health care bill. When she announced her candidacy in March, she said of Stupak, "I believe that he has a right to his personal, religious views, but to deprive his constituents of needed health care reform because of those views is reprehensible."
The National Organization for Women has endorsed Saltonstall:
What a relief that a courageous feminist candidate stepped up to the plate to challenge the co-author of the anti-choice Stupak-Pitts Amendment. Thanks to Connie Saltonstall, Stupak's bullying attempts to use health care reform as an opportunity to restrict women's access to abortion will be contested at the polls.
Since the House vote, two more groups — Planned Parenthood and NARAL — have also joined the Saltonstall cause.
Meanwhile, there are shouts of outrage from those on the right as well, who felt betrayed when Stupak signed onto the bill after promising he would not.
The header of the Weekly Standard's John McCormack post said, "Bart Stupak Sells Out." In recounting Stupak's reasons for voting yes — that the executive order signed by Obama "will accomplish what his amendment would have accomplished" — McCormack is, shall we say, dubious:
The problem with Stupak's statements is that they're not true—and no one on the right or the left believes them to be true, except for Bart Stupak and a few of his friends.
A similar point of view — though far harsher — came from Tommy De Seno, writing on FOXNews.com under the header, "Stupak the Sell-Out":
We have to wonder what ransom was paid for the lives of innocent children to secure Stupak's vote, and if we watch what appointments he gets, bills pushed through and his next election to see how much support he gets from the DNC, we may identify the ransom paid out there somewhere.
Maybe he didn't sell out — maybe he's just stupid.
He claims he got what he wanted not by amending the law, rather by striking a deal for an "Executive Order" from the president that will not allow abortion funding. ...
Bart Stupak had in his hands the power to stop federal funding of abortions, and he handed the power to the man who is schoolgirl-giddy in love with idea of funding abortions — Barack Obama. ...
The second worse thing Stupak did was deliver his speech on the floor of the House after his deal was made. For months Stupak was aligned with Republicans who are pro-life. Stupak suddenly accused THEM of disingenuousness in their commitment to pro-life policy. Yet those Republicans had the same position they held when the sun rose on Sunday morning — it was Stupak who changed his mind.
In addition to stupid, add back-stabbing jerk to Stupak's political tombstone.
And there's more.
Header of post on HotAir.com: "What we all now know: Bart Stupak is a two-faced weasel."
The Admonition blog: "Bart Stupak: Obamacare Sellout For What Exactly?"
David Horowitz's NewsReal Blog: "Stupak and Lessons Learned: Democrats Lie. Chronically."
Today, the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life organization, stripped Stupak of a "Defender of Life" award he was to receive this evening at a DC event. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the group, said, "By accepting this deal from the most pro-abortion President in American history, Stupak has not only failed to stand strong for unborn children, but also for his constituents and pro-life voters across the country."
As for the Obama executive signing order ceremony, it was, reports the New York Times' Kate Phillips, "done behind closed doors, unlike the often boisterous health care bill ceremony on Tuesday":
Mr. Stupak was one of the members of Congress invited to attend today's session, which the media couldn't attend. Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, defended the private nature of the event, saying that an officially sanctioned photograph would be released later and that should suffice for "transparency.")
If you want to smile — or feel the administration's pain — you really have to read Gibbs' contorted responses to press questions today about why the White House thought the executive order needed to be signed, since it was merely affirming existing law. Go to http://www.whitehouse.gov and click on today's press briefing.
Stupak first elected to his congressional seat in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in 1992, has received at least 65 percent of the vote in his last four contests. He has never appeared on any list of endangered incumbents.
Now a politically unknown Republican, surgeon Dan Benishek, announced he too will challenge Stupak. Here's a quote from the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire blog:
"The betrayal of Mr. Stupak was dramatic," Benishek says. "He certainly betrayed the citizens of his district because he's from a conservative pro-life area. That was pretty much the only issue tying him to his district. Mr. Stupak tends to vote pretty liberal on most things." ...
Benishek said he decided to run because he was concerned about Washington's deficit spending. "We have a debt disaster awaiting us," he says.
Since Stupak voted yes on the health care bill, Benishek has become a cause celebre among conservatives. Cassy Fiano, writing in HotAir, is excited about Benishek's candidacy and says Stupak "will be eaten alive this November."
The Real Clear Politics blog notes that Benishek's campaign "went from about 3,500 Facebook friends Sunday afternoon to 14,500 by mid-Monday." (It's 20,171 as of this writing.)
Stupak's Facebook page has 2,301 fans. Connie Saltonstall is close behind, with 2,034.
Of course, to the best of my knowledge, the number of Facebook fans has never determined the outcome of a race for Congress.
What will determine the outcome is whether the reservoir of good will Stupak has had with the voters of the UP in his nine terms is still there.