WASHINGTON — Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, the leader of House anti-abortion Democrats during the health care debate, announced Friday that he won't seek re-election.
Stupak, a nine-term member of the House of Representatives, had been under fire from the political left and right for helping to negotiate a last-minute compromise that allowed anti-abortion Democrats to vote for a health care bill that opponents claimed permitted federal funds to be used for abortions.
Stupak, who announced his decision at a news conference in Marquette, Mich., didn't cite fallout from the health care debate — or the threatening phone calls and mail he'd received — as a reason for his exit from the House. Instead, he said he'd accomplished most of what he came to Washington to do — including the health care overhaul — and wanted to spend more time with his family.
"My service to the people of Michigan has been one of the greatest honors of my life," Stupak said. "But it's time to begin a new and exciting chapter."
Stupak stressed that he wasn't knuckling under to pressure from the tea party movement, which had made ousting him from office its No. 2 priority, behind defeating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Some tea party protesters were in Stupak's district Friday and claimed credit for his decision.
He said the tea partiers and the threats came from outside his district.
"I'm not afraid of tough votes," Stupak said. "With it, you get all this outside noise. ... Those threats, those 3 o'clock in the morning phone calls threatening us, things like this, that's people outside the district; that's not my district. You just ignore it and move on."
Still, tea party organizers declared Stupak's announcement a major victory for them.
"The surprising announcement that Congressman Bart Stupak is abandoning his campaign for re-election shows the power of the tea party movement," Bryan Shroyer, the political director for the Tea Party Express, a national bus tour that's hosting a series of rallies across the nation, said in a statement. "Stupak was no longer able to hide his betrayal of conservative principle because the tea party movement was determined to educate voters in the district."
Stupak, 58, also faced a challenge from abortion rights advocates who were backing a former local official, Connie Saltonstall, in the Democratic primary.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praised Stupak on Friday for his health care vote and his service in Congress.
"Nowhere did the 1st District voters or the entire nation witness his tenacity and steadfast commitment more than in the successful effort to provide quality, affordable health care to all Americans," Pelosi said in a statement. "Throughout the battle for reform — from his crucial role on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to his leadership on the floor of the House — Bart Stupak was a forceful advocate for providing health care to all Americans."
Republicans, however, said Friday that Stupak failed to listen to voters and marched in lockstep with Pelosi. "After selling his soul to Nancy Pelosi, it appears that Bart Stupak finally found the courage to tell her no," said Ken Spain, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Democrats had hoped that Stupak would run again. President Barack Obama reportedly had asked him to stay in the race, as had leading House Democrats.
Signs had been building for months that he might not, however. Usually gregarious and personable, Stupak appeared fatigued as the long health care debate wore on.
In November and again in March, Stupak was at the center of last-minute negotiations to find lang uage that was acceptable to the approximately two dozen House Democrats who oppose legal abortion. Their support was needed for Democrats to pass a health care bill, which had become Obama's No. 1 legislative priority.
The deal last month involved an executive order from the president reaffirming the government's stance that federal funding couldn't be used to finance an abortion except when the woman's life is in danger or she's been a victim of rape or incest.
Stupak's agreement with the administration assured passage of the health care bill; without his approval, the bill probably wouldn't have passed.
Stupak, a former Michigan state trooper, was first elected to Congress in 1992, representing the 31 counties of upper Michigan. He became the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight and investigations panel, a high-profile subcommittee with responsibility for probing such issues as security breaches at nuclear power plants and child pornography.
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