On the House floor last night, someone yelled the words "baby killer" while Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) was speaking. We don't know who shouted the two words. But a number of lawmakers do. And they aren't telling.(UPDATE: Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.) has admitted he was the culprit..)
If you missed it yesterday, here's a brief rundown of what happened: On Sunday afternoon, Stupak, a fierce opponent of abortion rights, held a press conference announcing that despite his previous misgivings, he would support the Senate version of health care legislation.
Stupak had previously stated that the abortion language in the Senate bill was insufficiently strict and argued that it would leave open the possibility of taxpayer dollars going to pay for abortion; he had led a decisive block of anti-abortion-rights House Democrats who demanded changes to the abortion language in the House bill the first time it was passed.
But Stupak agreed to back the bill Sunday because President Obama said he would issue an executive order affirming his commitment to existing bans on taxpayer funding for abortion. "We've been able to come up with an agreement to respect the sanctity of life on health care reform," Stupak said at a press conference.
While it was never entirely clear how many lawmakers Stupak brought with him, he was seen as the leader of a block of six or more like-minded Democrats, many of whom appeared at the press conference with him to announce they too would vote yes. With the health care bill passing by a slim margin, his decision may well have been the decisive one in the passage of the bill.
Cut to Sunday night, after the House has passed the Senate bill, nearly guaranteeing that the president would be able to sign a reform bill into law. Republicans had put forth a (clearly futile) motion to try to kill the legislation predicated in large part on the abortion issue, and Stupak stepped forward to speak; during his remarks, as you can see above, someone, reportedly on the Republican side of the aisle, yelled the words "baby killer" in his direction.
Someone shouted "who said that?" and reporters immediately began trying to figure out who, exactly, was responsible for the remark. But in a rare display of bipartisanship, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers kept their mouths shut. Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) was originally identified as the shouter, but he told Politico that while it was definitely someone on the House floor, it wasn't him. He suggested it was one of the House Republicans from Texas, but did not name names. "Some people know who it is but won't say," said Campbell. (Texas Rep. Joe Barton suggested he knew the identity of the shouter but would not be identifying him.)
Democratic Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, meanwhile, told reporters he knew who had made the comment. But he declined to identify him. "Members have a right to make an idiot of themselves once without being exposed," he said, according to the Huffington Post.
Well, not necessarily: When Rep. Joe Wilson shouted out the now-infamous words "You Lie!" during a speech by the president to a joint session of Congress, he found himself at the center of a media storm and had to offer his apologies for the outburst.
But as lawmakers finally start to close the book on more than a year of contentious debate about health care, they are opting, in what seems at this point like a break from tradition, to close ranks. It's hard not to see the situation as reflecting a certain fatigue among lawmakers who have been assailed by angry protesters and harsh partisan rhetoric for most of the latest term in Congress -- a sense that now that the bill had finally passed, the time had come to for at least one night put such games aside.
More harsh fights are no doubt coming. But if the identity of the "baby killer" shouter never becomes public, one can't imagine most of the men and women in the House chamber will mind.
UPDATE: Well, for better or worse, it's now out there: Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.) acknowledged Monday afternoon that he shouted "baby killer."
More Coverage of Health Care Reform:
House Passes Health Care Bill
Poll: Health Care Reform Still Confusing
Health Care Debate Shows Ideological Split
Announcement of the Vote
Pelosi Urges House to "Make History"
CBSNews.com Special Report: Health Care