By Alex Roarty
Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Carney blasted Republican opponent Tom Marino on Monday for suggesting that the incumbent should have signed legislation in July prohibiting taxpayer-funded abortions even after learning the bill was formally introduced a day before Carney’s wife’s breast cancer surgery.
Marino’s attacks are a sign of a campaign desperate for attention and a man “bereft of human decency,” neither of which voters in the 10th Congressional District will stand for, the congressman told reporters on an afternoon conference call.
“It’s beyond desperation,” he said. “I don’t know why he would attack somebody for trying to come home to be with his spouse on such an occasion.”
The Marino campaign shot back that Carney had ample time to sign the legislation before his wife’s surgery because a co-sponsorship memo for it was distributed to congressmen a week earlier. Although Marino, in a statement, emphasized he was unaware of the surgery before he first criticized Carney, he accused the congressman of hiding behind his wife’s illness.
“As a two time cancer survivor, I am disappointed that Mr. Carney would use his wife’s health condition to hide the fact that he refuses to address where he stands on abortion,” Marino said. “I pray that Mrs. Carney has a full and speedy recovery. Of course we did not know about Mrs. Carney’s surgery at the time of our first press release.”
Congressmen were sent the co-sponsorship memo for the bill banning government-funded abortions on July 22, eight days before Carney’s wife was to have surgery on July 30. The legislation was formally introduced a week later, July 29.
The GOP campaign said the fact that Carney had a chance to sign the memo for an entire week and didn’t shows he’s he isn’t truly committed to opposing abortion-rights.
“The point of this from the very beginning is, if this were a priority for him, his name would have appeared on this legislation by now,” said Marino spokesman Jason Fitzgerald in an interview. “This is clearly not a priority for him.”
Carney said he doesn’t sign any co-sponsorship memos before reading the bill itself to make sure it’s everything it purports to be. Besides, he said, he was focused that week on his wife’s surgery, not legislation.
Carney has repeatedly insisted he has always opposed abortion-rights, including supporting the Hyde Amendment, which bans using taxpayer money for abortions. The issue is particularly sensitive in the culturally conservative northeast Pennsylvania district that Carney represents, and the perception that the Democratic incumbent does not favor abortion-rights is likely key to him winning elections in the right-leaning area.
Marino, an ex-U.S. attorney, has also questioned why Carney or his staff did not comment on the controversy to the news media before Monday. Although he acknowledges Carney was on active duty with the Naval Reserve from Aug. 4 until Sunday, which means he legally couldn’t comment
Even if the law prohibits Carney from commenting, his staff should be allowed to do so, Fitzgerald said.
A Carney spokesman said political staffers do not comment while the congressman is on active duty.
“The Congressman’s staff is happy to respond to legislative inquiries while he’s on active duty,” said Josh Drobnyk, the congressman’s spokesman.
As far as the bill, Carney said he supports it and could sign it as soon as Tuesday, when he returns to Congress.
“I will have an opportunity at that point to read the actual legislation, and, if it’s as advertised, I’m sure I will sign on,” he said.
The race between Marino and Carney was expected to among the state’s most competitive, although a tough GOP primary and lackluster fundraising have seemed to dim the Republican’s hopes despite a favorable political climate and right-leaning district. The ex-U.S. attorney had just $11,000 on hand to end the second fundraising quarter.
“If the kind of camp so far is any indication of how he approaches his role in this campaign, I can understand why people are hesitant to donate to him,” said Carney.
One GOP official, granted anonymity to speak candidly, said although he understood where the Marino campaign was coming from, the criticism was not coming off well.
“Their point is valid and everyone knows it but this is too thorny,” said the Republican. “The campaign already has the abortion hits it needs against Carney for paid media.”