WASHINGTON — It began as somewhat of a mystery Sunday night on the House floor: a voice, with a Texas accent, bellowed "baby killer" as Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., explained how he was voting for the health care bill after a compromise on abortion language.
On Monday, Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, a usually low-key member, owned up to his outburst and apologized.
However, Neugebauer insisted that he had not said, "He's a baby killer," as Stupak stood at a desk to speak. Rather, Neugebauer said what he shouted was, "It's a baby killer," referring to the compromise language.
"Last night was the climax of weeks and months of debate on a healthcare bill that my constituents fear and do not support," Neugebauer said in a statement.
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"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.
"I have apologized to Mr. Stupak, and also apologized to my colleagues for the manner in which I expressed my disappointment about the bill. The House Chamber is a place of decorum and respect. The timing and tone of my comment last night was inappropriate."
Stupak, interviewed on MSNBC's Hardball on Monday said he heard the barb, and he definitely thought it was directed at him.
"Yes, I accept that apology," he said, referring to Neugebauer's personal overture to him. "It's unfortunate that it's reached that point."
Stupak, one of the Democratic Party's staunchest anti-abortion leaders, agreed to a deal with the White House on an executive order that reiterated the Hyde Amendment, which states that federal funds cannot be used for abortions. Some lawmakers felt the Senate bill, which the House bill approved late Sunday, was not iron-clad. Stupak's acquiescence on the executive order brought a half dozen Democrats to the "yes," column, guaranteeing passage of the healthcare bill.
It was unclear Monday whether Democratic leaders would insist on an apology or take any action against Neugebauer.