This Nov. 21, 2011 file photo shows Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., speaks in Spring Hill, Tenn. DesJarlais, a freshman congressman running for re-election on a pro-life platform urged his pregnant mistress to get an abortion a decade ago, according to a transcript of the recorded conversation.Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The chairman of the Tennessee Conservative Union said Monday he's talking with other Republican-leaning groups and exploring whether to demand U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., resign from Congress.
The move comes as the 4th Congressional District lawmaker and candidate finds himself under growing fire following revelations that as a physician 12 years ago he pressed a former patient with whom he had been involved sexually to get an abortion.
Tennessee Conservative Union Chairman Lloyd Daugherty in an interview declined to identify the other organizations with which he has been speaking. He said his goal is building a "coalition" in support of the congressman's ouster.
"We're very upset that he's broken his medical creed and the trust of the citizens of his district," said Daugherty, who two years ago endorsed then-U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., whom DesJarlais beat in an upset.
The group usually backs Republicans.
In a statement Monday night, the Jasper lawmaker said his Democratic opponent, Eric Stewart, "supports Barack Obama for president and thinks Obamacare is great for Tennessee."
"I'll stand on my conservative record of lower taxes, reduced deficits, and repealing Obamacare. Mr. Daugherty supported Lincoln Davis last election cycle, so Eric Stewart would be a consistent choice for him -- but not for true conservatives."
Last week, DesJarlais told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he raised the abortion issue with the unnamed woman to get her to acknowledge the "truth" because as a physician he could see she wasn't pregnant.
He said the last time he saw her before the conversation was four months earlier and she displayed no signs of pregnancy. A mutual friend also told him she wasn't, DesJarlais said, emphasizing no abortion ever took place.
A transcript of the recorded conversation between DesJarlais and the woman, which he says was recorded without his knowledge, also shows he pressed her about getting an ultrasound.
Earlier on Monday, the congressman came under attack on two other fronts. The Washington, D.C.-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington announced it filed a complaint against the Jasper physician with the state Health Department over his relationship with a patient.
"Tennessee law is crystal clear," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington in a statement. "Doctors are prohibited from engaging in sexual relationships with patients."
She said the "only question remaining is, now that Tennessee authorities are aware of Rep. DesJarlais' blatantly unethical and scurrilous conduct, what are they going to do about it?"
Last week, DesJarlais acknowledged he exercised "poor judgment" in seeing a former patient, whom he treated briefly for an ankle industry. But he said he didn't see the doctor-patient relationship as "a disqualifying issue" for a post-congressional career in medicine.
"I'm confident that a professional review would allow me to continue to practice medicine," DesJarlais said.
The transcript quotes the woman blaming DesJarlais for contacting her, but in the same conversation, the doctor says she called him.
At the time he had a brief relationship with the woman, DesJarlais said last week, he was legally separated from his then-wife, Susan DesJarlais. When the conversation with the woman took place, he was trying to reconcile with his wife. That failed, and the DesJarlais' divorce became final in 2001.
Health Department spokeswoman Shelley Ladd Walker said "anyone can file a complaint" against a doctor, including out-of-state individuals or groups. She said that's because many Tennessee doctors practice in nearby states such as Georgia and Alabama.
The department does not reveal complaints or who filed them.
In a subsequent appeal to supporters Friday, DesJarlais wrote of the abortion discussion that "I appreciate that this was an imprudent approach to this situation and I'm not proud of it. In retrospect I should have dealt with these matters in a more diplomatic fashion."
"I am not trying to justify my actions or say that I am without fault," he said. "But I am not the hypocrite my opponents and some liberal media outlets are portraying me as."
Last week, Stewart, a state senator from Winchester, charged DesJarlais with "hypocrisy."
Allegations made by Susan DesJarlais in divorce proceedings were used by Davis in his campaign two years ago. They included her charge that DesJarlais held a gun in his mouth for three hours and that he once triggered an unloaded gun outside her locked bedroom door.
DesJarlais denied the episodes ever occurred.
The abortion discussion, however, never surfaced until last week. The couple divorced in 2001, and DesJarlais remarried and says he and his wife have enjoyed a good relationship over the past decade.
The Tennessee Conservative Union did not endorse DesJarlais in 2010 amid the earlier questions about his divorce and personal life.
"All this proves we were right," Daugherty said, speculating that hypocrisy on social issues would be a dealbreaker for 4th District Republicans.
On yet another front, the group Democrats for Life of America joined in on Monday, saying DesJarlais' action "disqualifies him from claiming the pro-life label."
Executive Director Kristen Day urged "all pro-life advocates and pro-life voters to immediately withdrawal their support from DesJarlais" and support his Democratic opponent -- Stewart.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.
Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at ccarroll@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6610.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...