U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal has had a slight change of heart.
Georgia’s 9th District congressman announced Thursday he is delaying his departure from Washington to participate in the upcoming vote on health care.
Deal will now stay in the House of Representatives through the end of March.
Last Monday, the Gainesville-based Republican announced he would resign from the House at the close of business March 8 to focus on his gubernatorial bid.
But Deal said he changed his mind after President Barack Obama on Wednesday called for an “up-or-down” vote on the current health care plan.
Deal’s decision to stay raises the number of votes Democrats need to pass the bill to 217.
“Having been deeply involved in all health care legislation for the past decade, I knew it was important to stay and vote down this bill,” Deal said in a statement.
The statement also said Gov. Sonny Perdue had “strongly encouraged” Deal to stay in Congress.
But Bert Brantley, Perdue’s spokesman, said no such encouragement occurred. The only encouragement from Perdue, Brantley said, was for Deal to represent Georgia well.
“They had made the decision, and the governor said ‘OK, thanks for calling,’ and, you know, ‘do good work for us,’” Brantley said.
“The governor has been very, very careful not to sway anything about this governor’s election at all.”
Deal drew criticism Monday from political opponents who said he was leaving North Georgia without representation at a key time.
Others implied Deal’s departure was a tactic to help him avoid a congressional ethics investigation, a charge Deal said last week was “absolutely not true.”
Campaign spokesman Harris Blackwood said Deal met Thursday morning with House Republican Whip Eric Cantor.
Cantor issued a statement through Deal’s campaign, praising the Gainesville representative’s decision.
“When dealing with legislation of the size, scope and cost of the Democrats’ health care overhaul, every member of Congress should be listening to his constituents and representing their viewpoints,” Cantor said in the statement.
“Nathan Deal is doing just that, and I join many Georgians — and Americans — in praising his decision.”
House Republican Leader John Boehner issued a statement that he was pleased that he could count on Deal to stay.
“The House is the last line of defense against this 2,700-page big government monstrosity, and the American people need every vote they can get in the effort to stop it from being enacted,” Boehner said.
U.S. Reps. Lynn Westmoreland Phil Gingrey, both of Georgia, also praised Deal’s decision.
“That announcement changed the equation,” Westmoreland said. “So close to the finish line, he knew he had to stay and fight this out to the end.”
Two political experts said Deal’s absence from the vote in a sea of more than 430 representatives was not likely to impact the outcome.
“If he was a senator, and he was one of 100 — and the debate is much closer in the Senate — I think it would have been a bigger deal,” said Ross Alexander, a political scientist at North Georgia College & State University.
“Had he been a senator, I don’t know if he’d have resigned, because it’s so close.”
Before Deal changed his mind on his Monday departure from the House, University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock said he did not see Deal’s resignation as a huge loss to Republicans in their fight against Obama’s health care plan.
“Given how polarized voting has become, you don’t often see bipartisan coalitions coming together to shape legislation — at least on the high-visibility issues,” Bullock said on Wednesday.
“It tends to be all Democrats, or virtually all of them on one side, and all Republicans voting in opposition. To the extent that that’s the pattern, then it doesn’t really matter.”
Staying in Washington until the vote, Bullock said later, “forecloses the criticism that some of his opponents might throw him.”