Can reporters count? Stupak can

The omnipresent Howard “Howie” Kurtz of the Washington Post offered this interesting tweet after the victory in the U.S. House by Rep. Bart Stupak and his coalition that opposes the use of tax dollars to fund abortions:

If pro-lifers have a House majority, as Rep. George Miller says, how come the press never got around to telling us?

Unless I have missed the quote elsewhere, Kurtz is referring to this passage in a riveting Politico report about the behind-the-scenes fireworks created by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to allow a vote on the Hyde Amendment language, which was the crucial moment in the House passing a health-reform bill. But allowing that vote was too much for Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro:

… (It) touched off an angry yelling match between DeLauro and another Pelosi confidant, California Rep. George Miller, and tears from some veteran female lawmakers, according to people in the room. Some of the lawmakers argued that Pelosi was turning her back on a decades-long campaign by female Democratic members in support of abortion rights. Miller rose to Pelosi’s defense, which resulted in an angry confrontation between him and DeLauro, said the sources.

Miller told DeLauro that there were “more pro-life votes in the House than pro-choice” and that abortion-rights advocates had better acknowledge that reality.

As I noted the other day, anyone who could add up the numbers in the House has known that this collision was coming — for months. Anyone who has been reading GetReligion for months now (MZ has lots of links in here) has known that we have been asking — for journalistic reasons — the same question that Kurtz is now asking.

Where was the mainstream press on this story? Of course, this story is now moving on to the U.S. Senate and faith groups, “pew gaps” and issues of that kind will play a major role there, too.

But back to the Politico piece. I was really struck by this section of the report:

… (The) speaker’s decision — like so many others she made during the drafting of this bill — showed Pelosi, a Roman Catholic and committed supporter of reproductive rights, to be more ruthlessly practical than her frequent caricature as an activist, upper-crust liberal from San Francisco would suggest.

It wasn’t just that she was disappointing some members over a last-minute change they disagreed with. She had to take on her closest and senior-most lieutenants on an issue that for many of them is like an article of faith, a defining tenet of what makes them a Democrat. And when she needed the votes, that’s what she did. …

The drama had built for months, pitting a group of Democrats against the Catholic Church. Priests and bishops were calling members to lobby for stricter language to limit abortion coverage, members and aides said last week. But the final decision played out over a few furious hours … as the fate of the broader bill still hung in the balance and stirred up long-dormant tensions within the Democratic Party over reproductive rights.

What? You didn’t know there were tensions among Democrats on a wide range of abortion issues? You mean that abortion is “an article of faith” for some, but not all, Democrats? You mean there are also arguments about what it means to be “pro-life” vs. merely “anti-abortion”? You mean that there are Democrats who want strong restrictions on abortion rights, even if they do not favor a ban? Click here for a look into some of that, care of the fine print in a Pew Forum study.

What? This “drama had built for months”? Did anyone see any mainstream coverage of that “lighthouse” story during recent months? I didn’t think so. Kurtz is right, but it would be nice if he addressed the issue in more than a tweet.

P.S. While the piece is on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, click here for some insights into the facts and numbers about what happens next on this story (a) in the Senate and (b) if the pro-abortion-rights forces in the House try to strip the Hyde Amendment language out of the bill on the next go-around.

Here’s the end of that piece:

… Democrats now have to make some decisions that may anger their Planned Parenthood wing. The fight itself will be interesting, judging from a claim by Diana DeGette (D., Col.) in yesterday’s Washington Post that 40 Democrats will vote against a final bill unless the Stupak amendment is stripped out. Of course, if it is stripped out, that will put even more pressure on those 64 Democrats who voted for the amendment.

“We won because [the Democrats] need us,” says Mr. Stupak. “If they are going to summarily dismiss us by taking the pen to that language, there will be hell to pay. I don’t say it as a threat, but if they double-cross us, there will be 40 people who won’t vote with them the next time they need us — and that could be the final version of this bill.”

Stay tuned. You too, Howie.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Francis X. Maier

    Nice, nice work Terry. There’s nothing sudden about Catholic engagement with this reform bill. The bishops’ staffers have been working every day with congressional and White House staff for the past three months to try to craft language in the bill that would be broadly acceptable. They took the president at his word. This fight only got ugly when they realized they were being blown off. The media missed all of this. And it was staring them right in the face.

  • Jay H. Steele

    This is what it means to be a big-tent political party. There was a time when the Republicans experienced these kinds of intra-party tensions. Now there is nothing left of the GOP but a right-wing fringe and a few token moderates who have already started switching to the party where there is room for their voice. Pelosi is thus far proving herself to be up to the task of keeping the big show moving along.

  • tmatt


    What does that have to do with the media coverage?

    Just asking.

  • liberty

    Sometimes the media’s reporting reminds me of my baby niece. She thinks that when she closes her eyes she is ‘hiding’. The media thinks that if they don’t report things (like the pro-life movement) then it will disappear. I am sure the annual March For Life on January 20 frustrates them to no end… they never cover it – but it keeps on happening!

    I am not in the media, so I don’t see why there it is not seen as a gaping hole that they didn’t see this coming. I am pro-life and I have been calling my congressman, and working to convince others to do so for weeks. This really was no surprise.

    It is frustrating though that the media seems to throw up a smoke screen for the other side of the debate – and rarely if ever covers our position fairly.

  • Francis X. Maier

    Related to this, check out Peter Wallsten’s story in the WSJ today:

    Especially this line: “The House vote, and the central role played by one of the country’s biggest religious denominations, stunned abortion-rights groups . . . ”

    Stunned? Really? Have they been asleep — and along with them, their colleagues in the MSM?

  • Brian Walden

    The phrase “a Roman Catholic and committed supporter of reproductive rights” gave me a huge bout of cognitive dissonance. I realize that reproductive rights is a common term used by those who support abortion, but if you’re going to use it in juxtaposition to Pelosi’s faith shouldn’t there be some explanation that her Church’s view of reproductive rights includes the right of the child to live?

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem the article saying she’s Catholic and pro-abortion in the same sentence – the problem I see is that reproductive rights means the rights of parents to not be interfered with from the government in choosing their family size to the Catholic Church while it means the right for mothers to kill their unborn children to Pelosi. Those are two completely different things.

  • dalea

    This seems to have taken Progressives by surprise also. It is not generally realized how many anti-abortion Democrats there are by the Progressives, especially when some are also leading Progressives. This list at DailyKos shows what is going on now about the subject. Note that religion is totally unmentioned in the discussion.

    If groups like NARAL and EMILY’s List ever want to start being effective, they would begin by using this list to find good primary targets. There’s absolutely no reason why many of these districts (some of which gave Obama over 60% of their vote) should elect anti-choice representatives. Yet year after year, almost of these Congressmembers seem to get a pass from the pro-choice establishment.


    It’s exceptionally sad that a Democratic congress stands poised to deliver the worst blow to reproductive freedoms in many years. What’s even more troubling, in its own way, is that it was possible at all. Many of the representatives on this list could be primaried without any risk of their seat falling to the GOP. It’s high time we start. And groups like NARAL, EMILY’s List, and all of their peer organizations have a duty to lead the way.

    So, it came as a surprise to a many on the Left that congresspeople they have worked for and supported for years were not with them on reproductive rights. Big wake up call.

  • MichaelV

    I’d like to read more about the nature of the USCCB’s lobbying efforts. There seems to be an assumption that the bishops are influential, and I wonder how that plays out.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Considering the coverage before the vote, I thought the pro-life Amendment would only squeak through–IF it passed at all. I was very surprised at the comfortable margin. I think this reflects what very many in the mainstream media refuse to admit (or cover)–that pro-life attitudes are growing, not dwindling away. Although this could all be a ploy to give these pro-life Democrats cover, if their votes are later needed to get the Dem Reform package through in final passage. They can say they did everything they could to get pro-life principles into the Health bill. (Or, “We voted against it before we voted for it!”

  • Robert

    Ah, yes, but the Majority Whip, Mr. Clyburn of South Carolina, claims that a goodly number of those Dems voting for Stupak/Pitts did so on bad faith.
    Robert at

  • Francis X. Maier

    I want to hook onto dalea’s comment. The MSM were closely aligned with the Democratic Party last year in emphasizing that Dems too had plenty of religious people among their number. Now the MSM are shocked, shocked, that some of the elected members within the Democratic Party actually are, well, religious; and some actually find abortion morally repugnant. The party and the news media can’t have it both ways. Either the party is a big tent, and prolife views are acceptable in cultured company, or they’re not. Either way, lots of people are watching the cognitive dissonance in the MSM and the Democratic Party the media lean toward.

  • Peggy

    I think now the faithful need to lobby the USCCB to back off and quit helping this evil bill move forward. Learning in the media about the integral role of the USCCB raises more questions than it answers.

    –Why did they draw a line in the sand ONLY about abortion? Why not about the possibility of euthanasia under the care rationing that will occur? What happened to the conscience condition they’ve been claiming concerned them? I thought these life and religious freedom issues were of equal and primary importance.

    –On other matters or morality and justice, did the USCCB approve of the final bill? Did the USCCB find the fines/jail time for refuseniks to be just? Did they care that Medicare will be reduced immensely to provide coverage to others?

    The hierarchy of morals says that life issues matter most. I agree, but I think the USCCB failed in meeting that requirement.

    Do we cynically conclude that the USCCB was looking primarily at the bottom line of Catholic hospitals, first and foremost?

    I’d like to see the media delve into these matters and motives of the USCCB.

  • Luce

    If I haven’t said it before (I have), I am very thankful for your blog. You guys really cut through the muck. I wonder you don’t get discouraged and quit, but I pray you won’t.

  • dalea

    Coverage of the issue continues with TroutfishinginAmerica’s reccomended diary:

    He is amplyfiying Rachel Maddow’s continuing coverage of the C Street family/church.

    Last night, Rachel Maddow noted that out of the 26 House Democrats who voted for the Stupak-Pitts amendment and against the House health reform bill, eight are proven or reported to be members of the fundamentalist Washington, DC association known as the Family [ 2008 NBC story on the group ]. While Bart Stupak is closely tied to the Family (see my new story, linked below) Republican Joe Pitts is, as Jeff Sharlet told Rachel Maddow, one of the Family’s “core members.”

    Progressives appear to be much more involved with NewMedia than other groups. I would regard this as in depth investigating of a religious group, but done in very new ways.

  • Jettboy

    And the media says Republicans are having a civil war? Seems they are ignoring the one where claimed they would fight any Democrats who voted no in any form with the Health Care bills. Then you have the pro-choice and pro-life Democrats at each other’s throats.

  • Bill Kurtz

    Of course if we had followed the lead of most professional pro-lifers, there wouldn’t BE any pro-life Democrats there to score this victory. And if President Obama signs a law including the Stupak amendment, that kind of destroys the hysterical talk of his being the “most pro-abortion president ever,” doesn’t it?

  • Mason

    In response to Bill Kurtz. No.

  • John Pack Lambert

    National Right to Life consistently endorses Democrat encumbents who are pro-life. This is very possibly what has kept Stupak in office, at least before the 2002 redistricting. It also makes Dale Kildee secure in office.
    The media back in the 1990s used to cover such issues, but I have seen little on it lately.