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Durbin Calls for Coburn to Clarify ‘Prayer’ Remark

Updated: 7:39 p.m.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on late Sunday afternoon took to the chamber floor and expressed concern about statements made earlier in the day by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

Durbin appeared to insinuate that Coburn was hoping at least one Democrat would become too ill to travel to the Senate for a scheduled 1 a.m. Monday vote, which would mean that a cloture vote to end debate on the manager’s amendment to the health care bill would fail.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to be invoking prayer to wish misfortune on a colleague, and I want him to clarify that. I’ve invited him. I’ve tried to reach out to him. He is my friend, and I have worked with him. But this statement goes too far,— Durbin said. “I hope Sen. Coburn can make it to the floor to explain his statement.—

Durbin, who brought the matter up three separate times, was referring to floor remarks made by Coburn earlier Sunday, in which the Oklahoma Republican said: “What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can’t make the vote tonight. That’s what they ought to pray. So that we can actually get the middle — not me, not mine, I understand I’m way over here — but we ought to get the middle of America and the middle of the Senate a bill that can run through this country and actually do what we say we all want to do.—

John Hart, Coburn’s spokesman, dismissed Durbin’s criticism, countering that Democrats have used equally strong rhetorical flourishes during the health care debate.

“If Sen. Durbin is going to demand clarifications he should begin by asking Majority Leader [Harry] Reid whether he meant to compare Republicans to slave owners. He should then ask Sen. [Sheldon] Whitehouse [D-R.I.] whether he meant to suggest Republican Senators had formed a secret alliance with the Aryan nation. Dr. Coburn will, however, extend a courtesy denied to him and state the obvious that he does not wish misfortune on anyone, particularly as a physician. Still, if Senators are napping before the vote he would not be disappointed if alarm clocks don’t go off. The American people deserve more time to review this massive bill that will fund abortion, cut Medicare and ration care,— Hart said.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said in floor remarks that he thinks what Coburn was saying was that it would be helpful for Senators to have more time to review the manager’s amendment, which wasn’t made public until Saturday.

However, Kyl also noted that a Democratic Senator earlier Sunday likened Republicans to a “lunatic fringe— and white supremacists in their opposition to health care reform and opposition to President Barack Obama.

Kyl did not name the Senator, but Whitehouse on Sunday made remarks that include reference to published editorials by writers who have made such accusations.

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