Rep. Bart Stupak, a Democrat targeted for defeat by tea party activists for his role in securing House approval of the health care overhaul, said Friday he’s retiring after 18 years in Congress now that his main legislative goal has been accomplished. The Tea Party Express is holding rallies this week in his northern Michigan district calling for his ouster.
The rats are jumping ship! Stupak said at a news conference that he decided within the last 36 hours not to seek a 10th term. His decision comes amid a string of recent retirements by Democrats, including Reps. William Delahunt of Massachusetts and Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, and Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota.
During the health care debate, Stupak emerged as spokesman and chief negotiator for Democrats who withheld support from Obama’s plan because they feared it would allow public funding of abortions.
Just hours before the vote, Stupak reached a deal with the White House under which Obama would issue an executive order confirming that the legislation would not allow federal funding of abortion. With that, Stupak and other anti-abortion Democrats voted for the bill, sealing its passage.
Since then, Stupak has become a symbol for critics of the overhaul. The Tea Party Express labeled him its No. 2 target for defeat after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
“The surprising announcement that Congressman Bart Stupak is abandoning his campaign for re-election shows the power of the tea party movement,” said a statement posted Friday on the group’s Web site.
Stupak was the first “casualty” of the health care overhaul vote, Michigan Republican Party Chairman Ron Weiser said in a statement.
Republicans represented his rural, blue-collar district for nearly three decades before he won in 1992, and Stupak’s departure will create a strong opportunity for the GOP.
“This retirement presents Republicans with a very promising opportunity heading into the November elections,” said Tom Erickson, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. They’re certainly going to have a tough time trying to hold on to this seat.”