Sen. Coburn Defends Delivering Babies Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma was an obstetrician before he held elected office. But the senator hasn't exactly given up his first career — and the Senate Ethics Committee is crying foul. Alex Chadwick talks to Senator Coburn about why he thinks delivering babies pro bono should not be thought of as a possible conflict of interest.

Sen. Coburn Defends Delivering Babies

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This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Alex Chadwick. The traditional August Congressional recess in underway, but perhaps the Senate Ethics Committee is wondering just how the senator from Oklahoma, Tom Coburn, is spending his time. As reminded us this week, Senator Coburn is also Dr. Coburn. He has continued aspects of the practice of family medicine, including delivering babies. This is a violation of Senate ethics, which doesn't permit Senate members to continue outside businesses. Senator Coburn, welcome to Day to Day.

Senator TOM COBURN (Republican, Oklahoma): Thank you, good to be with you.

CHADWICK: Have you been delivering any babies while you've been off from your Washington duties?

Senator COBURN: I have. I delivered a 11 pound 12 ounce baby Saturday morning.

CHADWICK: Senator, you're under very strict instructions not to deliver any more babies. This is the one that puts you over the limit, I think. They're going to reprimand you.

Senator COBURN: First of all, I'm not under strict orders not to deliver babies. I can deliver them as long as it's a non for profit, hospital or a home or an Indian tribe or a military base. The rules are saying that you cannot associate yourself with the way professionally to where it is of benefit to you, or that it would endorse any one area.

In my home town, there is only one place you can deliver a baby. There is no choice. Everybody that's going to deliver a baby there is going to deliver it at the Muskogee Regional Medical Center, period. So there's no endorsement.

CHADWICK: Let's just note that you were in Congress for three terms. During that time you delivered 400 babies. Then you were subsequently elected to the Senate. You've continued delivering babies, and this has become a matter for the Ethics Committee because they really don't think there should be any outside income for you connected with your previous employment.

Senator COBURN: Well, there is no outside income connected with it. I've done it totally free. All the costs have been borne by me, any of my malpractice, my office, my nurses, I pay that out of my pocket. I get no remuneration whatsoever. And my contention is I'm in no violation of any Senate ethics rule.

CHADWICK: But that's not your call, senator. It's the call of the Ethics Committee, isn't it? Which is a bi-partisan committee, and you've had trouble when Republicans were running it and Democrats running it.

Senator COBURN: Well, I haven't had trouble, all I've said is - this isn't America when you totally expend all your own money, and there is no obvious conflict of interest anywhere, and the Ethics Committee rules against you. It makes you wonder, maybe the Ethics Committee is ruling against you not based on ethics, maybe on something else.

CHADWICK: What would that be?

Senator COBURN: Maybe the fact that I challenge earmarks. I challenge parochialism.

CHADWICK: Senator, you will go back to Washington and at the end of this recess, there was a pretty strict letter from the Senate Ethics Committee saying, don't do this anymore. You've now clearly said it here on National Public Radio, you've violated their instructions. What's going to happen, and how are you going to get along with your colleagues there?

Senator COBURN: Well, I think I'll get along with my colleague's fine. Most of my colleagues think what the Ethics Committee is doing is not necessarily ethical. You know I - the American people are going to get to decide this. I take care of a Nigerian lady who has no pre-natal care, has gestational diabetes and a toxemia, and I do it for free and deliver an 11 pound 12 ounce baby. And she gets out of the hospital healthy and so is the baby. Now, let's see how that makes sense with the American people.

CHADWICK: Tom Coburn is a senator from Oklahoma and a doctor there, as well. Senator, thank you.

Senator COBURN: You're welcome. Good to visit with you.

CHADWICK: Day to Day contacted the Senate Ethics Committee for a comment. It said that committee rules prevent its commenting on any matter under consideration.

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