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Dems Done Negotiating With Stupak But C-Street Problems Aren't Going Away

As Rachel Maddow notes it looks like the Democrats have finally stopped trying to negotiate with Bart Stupak. Why it took them this long is beyond m

As Rachel Maddow notes it looks like the Democrats have finally stopped trying to negotiate with Bart Stupak. Why it took them this long is beyond me. Stupak is now claiming that anyone who is against the language he wanted inserted into the health care bill is against babies and the cost they would add to the health care system. He's also not too happy with Rachel Maddow's reporting. Thankfully she doesn't care and continues to ask who was paying his rent at the C Street House. C.R.E.W.'s Melanie Sloan joined Rachel to discuss whether Stupak has violated the House rules by allowing his rent to be subsidized.

Transcript via Lexis Nexis.

MADDOW: As of yesterday, Congressman Bart Stupak`s attempt to hijack health reform in order to expand restrictions on abortion is over. Mr. Stupak`s bluff has been called. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told me in an interview yesterday that his claim about the Senate`s health reform bill includes federal funding for abortion is simply wrong. Several House members who voted with Mr. Stupak before on his anti-abortion language now are also admitting that Mr. Stupak`s claims about the Senate bill funding abortion don`t seem to be borne out by the facts.

The Senate bill, in fact, does not allow public funding for abortions.

If there was any doubt about the collapse of Mr. Stupak`s threat to use his discredited claims about abortion to kill health reform, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer put those doubts to rest this afternoon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: I talked to Mr. Stupak, but I made it clear that I wasn`t negotiating.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: "I made it clear that I wasn`t negotiating."

So, his own leadership is not negotiating with him. So, they seem done with his threats, done with the attempted hijacking of health reform.

Congressman Stupak has said, of course, that he speaks for about a dozen members of Congress who agree with him on this issue. House leadership has told us that they think it`s more like four or five.

And Congressman Stupak himself today admitted in a rather strange interview that even that purported threat from him is crumbling. Congressman Stupak today telling the conservative National Review Online, quote, "At this point, there is no doubt that they`ve been able to peel off one or two of my 12." Or four or seven or two or whatever -- but who`s counting?

As things fall apart for him, as his perceived threat dissolves, the opening quote of Congressman Stupak`s interview with the "National Review" let slip probably his gravest concern about how this whole thing is going to reflect on him. His gravest concern at this point, what he told the "National Review" -- his first quote to them today, "They`re ignoring me."

And when you`ve been enjoying the attention for your big, fake, can`t do it, imaginary friend bluff, as much as Congressman Stupak has, the idea that people are now just ignoring you again must be really hard to take. At least that`s what might explain what else he said today. This is kind of amazing.

The "National Review" in this interview asked him about why Congressman Stupak is being ignored now, about what Democratic leaders are telling him about this whole anti-abortion stunt of his being over. Here`s what he said, quote, "If you pass the Stupak amendment, more children will be born, and therefore, it will cost us millions more. That`s one of the arguments I have been hearing. Money is their hang-up. Is this how we now value life in America?"

This is how Congressman Stupak understands what we`ve all been arguing about. This is how he understands the argument against the stunt that he`s tried to pull off these past few weeks. It`s not that the people think this isn`t the right venue for trying to change the law on abortion. It`s not even that he`s anti-abortion and some people are pro-choice. That`s not it.

The way Congressman Stupak sees it is that the people who don`t want him to get away with this thing he`s been trying to get away with are anti- baby. Bart Stupak`s opponents want there to be less babies because babies are so expensive. If you pass the Stupak amendment, he says, "more children will be born and therefore, it will cost us millions more. That`s one of the arguments I have been hearing. Money is their hang-up."

So, he thinks that people are against what he`s doing because people think babies are expensive. That`s what he thinks this is about.

For the record, the argument the speaker of the House made yesterday in shutting him down is not that babies are expensive, but rather that Mr. Stupak`s plan to ban people from buying insurance that covers abortion, even with their own money, isn`t part of lowering costs and expanding coverage. It`s not part of health reform. It`s a separate issue that he`s trying to tack onto this.

But, you know, that separate issue is part of Congressman Stupak`s quest for fame. And with that quest for fame came scrutiny of things like his living arrangements at the C Street house, which is owned by the secretive religious group in Washington called The Family.

Mr. Stupak did address the ethics issues involving his reduced rate rent at The Family`s house saying today, quote, "People are threatening ethics complaints on me. On the left, they`re really stepping it up. Every day, from Rachel Maddow to the Daily Kos, it keeps coming. Does it bother me? Sure. Does it change my position? No."

Whether or not it bothers Congressman Stupak or changes his position, the questions about his living arrangements at C Street remain open only because he won`t answer them. When a congressman pays only $600 a month to live in a $1.8 million 12-bedroom townhouse right near the Capitol that is run by a power-playing pseudo-religious secret group that he denies being part of, his constituents and everybody else deserve to know who is subsidizing him.

Who pays your rent, Congressman? Who paid your rent at the C Street house? How much rent did you pay? How far below market rate was it?

Who picked up the subsidy? Did you ever report it as income in taxes? Did you ever report it as an in-kind donation?

The only reason those questions aren`t going away is because you won`t answer them.

Today`s calls to Congressman Stupak on this subject, again, went unanswered.

Joining us now is Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Melanie, thanks very much for coming on the show. Appreciate it.

MELANIE SLOAN, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON: Always a pleasure.

MADDOW: So, The Family, in the past, has acknowledged subsidizing rent for people who live at C Street. At one point in the press, acknowledging that people only paid about $600 a month. Is there anything potentially wrong with living in subsidized housing? Could there be problems with this with either tax laws or House rules?

SLOAN: Absolutely. It`s a violation of House rules. There is something called the House gift ban preventing members of Congress from accepting any kind of gift. And this applies to members of the House and Senate, and taking rent from somebody does, in fact, violate the gift ban.

I looked just today, for example, at what rent go for on the Hill and in comparable houses nearby, the rent would be $1,000 a month. There has been some discussion that Mr. Stupak got room and board, as well as maid service.

We called a Capitol Hill hotel, only a block from the C Street house, and found that their rooms go for between $2,700 and $7,000 a month depending on the month. That`s just for a standard room.

So, clearly, Bart Stupak and the other members of Congress who lived at the C Street house have been given some kind of gift by -- when they live at the house, and they are not paying full rent.

MADDOW: We should make it clear that Congressman Stupak won`t tell us how much he paid in rent. He won`t tell us to whom he paid his rent, nor if he tell us if he was aware that he was getting any sort of subsidy. So, a lot of this is us trying to piece together what his potential answers to those questions would entail in terms of his ethics liability or criminal liability, if any.

I don`t want to go beyond what we know from reporting on the subject, but wouldn`t it -- in terms of looking to this as an ethical matter -- would it help you in terms of figuring out his liability here to have answers from him to those questions?

SLOAN: Well, of course, it would be helpful if we have answers from him. But if we`re not getting any answers from, CREW, my organization is going to bring this to the House Ethics Committee and ask them to investigate the matter, and then Mr. Stupak can answer in the House Ethics Committee on this issue.

MADDOW: What is the potential penalty for violating the gift ban?

SLOAN: Well, the penalties, as you know, range wildly in the House Ethics Committee, because they`re notoriously lax and they don`t like to come down on members very hard for misconduct. There can be the kind of admonishment that Charlie Rangel got a couple of weeks ago where they just say: bad, bad, that`s not good, you can`t do it again -- all the way up to expulsion.

I wouldn`t expect any kind of expulsion here. But at the very least, you could expect to see Congressman Stupak disciplined for violating the gift rule and told to pay back all the extra money probably to the U.S. Treasury.

MADDOW: In terms of people who have actually been at C Street, who have lived there, who would potentially be subject to an ethics inquiry like if one were to happen, we know that Congressman Stupak lived there for years. A lot of other members of Congress have, at times, acknowledged living there and at times not.

Is there any means by which we could actually, I guess, require members of Congress to acknowledge where they lived and when? Or is that considered to be private information that`s not available for an inquiry like this?

SLOAN: Well, again, sadly, you and I can`t ask for that. But certainly, the House and Senate Ethics Committees can. And so, if we were to go to the House and Senate Ethics Committees, as CREW is planning to do and say, these are the members who`ve lived there over time, or it`s been reported that they have, Zach Wamp, Mike Doyle from the House, John Ensign from the Senate, Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint from the Senate.

If we ask the ethics committees to investigate whether all of these members have properly paid the amount of money they should in return for their room and board at the C Street house, and whether they have all accepted improper gifts, then the House and Senate Ethics Committees can demand explanations.

MADDOW: Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW -- will you let us know what they say in response?

SLOAN: Well, don`t hold your breath. As you know, it takes a while.

MADDOW: I hear it. But thank you for keeping us apprised. I appreciate your expertise on this. Thank you.

Can you help us out?

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