August 6th, 2009
01:55 PM ET
9 years ago

Liberal groups launch town hall counteroffensive

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Liberal groups are sending supporters detailed instructions on strategies to counter what they call organized disruptions of congressional town halls - events that have become new front lines in the fight over President Obama's health care proposal.

Conservative groups critical of the overhaul headed into the August recess with their own battle plans for the events, sending opponents of the Democratic approach to health care reform information like links to search engines and lists that relayed the locations of upcoming town halls; confrontational questions to ask members of Congress; and chants and slogans to use in and around the venues.

The increasingly tense face-offs have grabbed headlines, and national Democrats have spent the week highlighting reports of everything from rowdy crowds to physical assaults and death threats directed at lawmakers who are current or prospective backers of the president's plan.

Over the past few days, groups like Health Care for America Now, the AFL-CIO - which is describing the town halls as the "principal battleground" in the health care fight - and Organizing for America, the president's campaign arm at the Democratic National Committee, have sent supporters logistical tips for dealing with any hostile conservative presence at the town halls, and for organizing lobbying efforts to neutralize their impact.

OFA sent its e-mail list a message Thursday that pointed to the protests as a fresh hurdle that called for a concerted push to contact members of Congress in response. "The goal of these disruptions is for a few people to get a lot a media attention and hijack the entire public discourse," wrote executive director Mitch Stewart. The message identifies the lawmaker who represents the specific congressional district of the e-mail recipient, and provides contact information.

A new campaign by the group also asks supporters to make their presence felt at town hall meetings. "Our congressional representatives are back home this month, and they’re facing more and more pressure from special interests on health insurance reform. It’s critical that we get out there and show them where we stand," says an OFA e-mail.

HCAN – the massive umbrella organization that represents the lobbying effort on behalf of major progressive groups and unions like MoveOn, the NAACP, and the SEIU – has given its supporters instructions on their own set of defensive town hall tactics.

The group advises them to coordinate event-day strategy in advance with congressional aides; arrive far earlier than opponents and gather "in the front to create a wall around the Member"; and to assign individuals to shadow reporters and "be assertive in shaping the narrative." It provides suggested questions and possible chants to use in drowning out raucous opponents.

The instructions also offer "precautions to make sure that you can keep meetings you organize under control." Those guidelines include making sure attendees are "easily identifiable"; establishing a strictly-controlled question-asking protocol; and banning and collecting any signs and leaflets that they have not issued themselves.

"Plan for disturbances and assign marshals," say the guidelines. "Make sure that you assign marshals to take care of moving the crowd, keeping people organized and orderly, and acting as security should any need arise to ask noisy or disruptive protesters to leave. If you have cause to think that you will need more back-up, notify the police ahead of time."

Opponents of the Obama plan have taken note of the new efforts. Thursday afternoon, conservative blog RedState noted that a Democratic Florida congresswoman had scheduled a "last-minute town hall" in an effort to "avoid middle class workers opposed to Obamacare."

"She'll be surrounded by union goons from the SEIU to feed middle class voters to alligators if they dare criticize Obamacare," said the blog, which advised readers who lived in the area that "you should show up. Just remember, the union goons are going to do their best to pick fights with you so they can get video for TV a proof that you guys are a mob. Don't let them win, but get your questions asked."

Moderate Democrats and fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats in particular are being targeted with lobbying campaigns, millions of dollars in radio and television ads, and grassroots pressure from both parties and groups across the political spectrum over the August recess, as Congress continues to weigh the president's proposed overhaul of the nation's health care system.

Filed under: Health care
soundoff (108 Responses)
  1. Irene Baur

    People are being terrified by the right-winged conservative groups that are determined to destroy universal health care. I'm sure these groups are owned by the insurance companies. I don't know what it will take to make people understand that our current health system needs to be overhalued immediately. Please Mr. Obama, do not listen to these extremist groups. Do what is right for our country. Every single person I have talked to from other countries would not trade their health care for ours. Our health care is a disgrace! These health insurance companies will not be satisfied until they've bled us all dry. Don't let that happen. Thank You.

    August 6, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  2. The new GOP party of NO, racism, and hate is emerging

    I will say good for them: You fight fire with fire!!!!


    August 6, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  3. Dan J

    Go liberals! Show us what mob action, organized astro-turf protests REALLY look like! Dig up those fringe wackos and make it interesting! We should hopefully see some great evidence for mental health care reform now!

    August 6, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  4. Sam Sixpack

    Heck, who doesn't want to pay all they can "afford" for imaginary health care?

    August 6, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  5. i see

    Just cause a bigger distraction and you wont have to answer any question the people have.

    August 6, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  6. stormerF

    Hard to believe Democrats can not fanthom the Idea of other Democrats disgreeing with them.How can Congressional politicans defend a health care bill when they do not know what is in it? .
    ..Town Halls get disruptive at times,Oh unless they are scripted as Obama's are. Saw one town meeting when all they were doing was asking the congressman to read the bill.When the bill is still in the House,and not in final draft,with 100 changes already,There is no way for the Democrats to know what is in it.
    Obama has said he has not read it,so how can he say it will do this and not do that?

    August 6, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  7. Franco

    What are we becoming? One group pitted against another group. I long for the America of Reagan and Teddy Roosevelt. We are becoming very sick people hurling insults towards one another...The US Congress is the playground of immature adults who have only on goal: Self

    August 6, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  8. Jim

    Typical. Send in the union goons to intimidate people from letting their representatives know what they think.

    You are going to look great roughing up all those senior citizens worried about their health care.

    August 6, 2009 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  9. Claudia in Houson

    Oh, the misinformed who are listening to Republicans who are doing the dirty work for insurance company lobbyist. Don't be used, get paid like the insurance lobbyist are paying Republicans. Stop being used.

    August 6, 2009 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  10. Deep Throat

    Unions gave more than $60 million(SEIU) to Obama's campaign.

    Not surprising why they are deathly afraid to see his healthcare
    bill fail.

    August 6, 2009 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  11. Brendan H., San Antonio, TX

    Ironically, most of the Republicans without health care are fighting for the crowd that wants to keep them without coverage. Way to go, Rush!!!

    August 6, 2009 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  12. Ron Mexico

    The more you look at this, you start to see that this is not just republicans. I'm happy to see so many Americans standing up and getting involved. The far left and right have run this country too long. I hope these town hall meetings continue, and the average Americans keep standing up and let's start holding these politicians responsible!

    August 6, 2009 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  13. Kevin B

    The discussion of health care reform is too important to be marginalized by the GOP/Insurance bullies and reactionaries.
    The same folks being directed to disrupt the town hall meetings are the same folks the GOP/Insurance machine will turn on, once they have used these idiots to get the reform blocked.

    How stupid have americans become !???!

    August 6, 2009 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  14. Thomas L.

    I think people need to chill out, Healthcare Reform is going to happen. President Obama is doing a great job inspite of the Republican daily attacks on his character and the total disrespect for the office of the Presidency.

    I have never heard any president getting disrespected the way people like, Rush, Hannity, Beck and others like them have been towards Mr. Obama. How Mr. Beck can say with a straight face that the president is a racist and hates white people is criminal. I guess he forgot the man is 1/2 white,ie his mother, how stupid can you be on national tv. No matter what, he is our president for now, how about trying to work with him, or just keep winning for the next three years.

    August 6, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  15. Maurice Carlos

    People who are against this health care plan confuse me. They say they want things to change, they say they want more restrictions and reform, but in the same breathe they yell at democrats for not letting the free market handle health care. When I watch the videos of these town halls it makes me so angry. Instead of just yelling out stupid stuff like you don't want government run health care (Medicaid, Medicare, etc) you should make an actually argument with some meaning behind it. EX: I think a public option would not only give an affordable health care plan to those who can't afford one now, but it would also give insurance companies competition and therefore force them to lower their prices. That is what an intelligent argument sounds like, simply saying you are for or against something without any real reasoning behind what you are saying is part of the reason why nothing can ever get done.

    August 6, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  16. chudi

    GAME ON REPUBS, OBama is taking you guys down, way way way down. Your lies will no longer disturb our thirst for a public option and for the last time it is not government run but government funded you republican hypocrites.

    August 6, 2009 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  17. I believe in ceiling cat

    I'm half expecting to see a mosh pit at one of these town hall meetings... has anyone here actually READ the bill? I have. Here is one section that bothered me:

    "(c) DATA COLLECTION.—The Commissioner shall collect data for purposes of carrying out the Commissioner’s duties, including for purposes of promoting quality and value, protecting consumers, and addressing disparities in health and health care and may share such data with the Secretary of Health and Human Services."

    So one man will have full access to our medical records so long as it is to help him carry out his "duties." Does anyone here know how well the term "probable cause" worked out?

    I'm sorry but I don't want the government being able to intrude on my privacy like that and I intend to make that quite clear to Sen. Frank Lautenberg here in Jersey.

    August 6, 2009 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  18. TCM

    yeah....I'd like to see some liberal try to shut me down if I wanted to speak at a townhall....Censorship because they don't want to hear that they're wrong? They'll be some violence for sure if the DNC is sending out such anti-American "instructions..." The DNC is treading on thin ice with American citizens, true Americans....they should tread lightly...

    August 6, 2009 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  19. Kevin B

    The GOP and the insurance industry lobby have so much blood money at stake and such disdain for the american people, that they would pit one group against another in order maintain profits over affordable and accesible health care.

    Where is the republican plan ? Oh, they do not have one do they? If they do it doesn't do anything but ensure continued record profits for leaving americans in the lurch.

    These folks are down right evil.

    August 6, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  20. Reformed Republican

    The rethugs are hipocrites.
    First they mock the dems for being woozies and then when they stand up for themselves suddenly they are un-American neo-nazis.
    Excuse me but neo-nazis are right wing extremists not socialist liberals you morons...

    August 6, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  21. annie s

    I had to look on Fox News of all places to learn that one of the organizers of these so called conservative "protests" is none other than Rick Scott, a former CEO of a large for-profit hospital group whose company had to pay the government at 1.7 billion dollar fine for fraud. He has invested 5 million dollars of his own money to fight reform. Further, the campaign is being led by CRC Public Relations, the same sleazebag group behind the Swift Boat ads against John Kerry. This is life or death for many Americans – I say we fight against these fear mongers, bigots and self serving "protesters" with everything we've got.

    August 6, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  22. Me

    Wait, I thought Democrats were against "mobs"? Oh, wait, they're Democrats. I keep forgeting that Democrat = Hypocrite.

    August 6, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  23. Asian4Hillary

    Uh oh! Granny and grandpa is now a MOB, What do you think granny and grandpa can do? Bite democrats with dentures? I know they'll beat these democrat senators and congressmen with their walking stick, grandma will hit them right upside the head with her handbag.

    Yes! Granny and grandpa are MOBS, shame on them for standing up for their fellow citizens against socialize medicine.

    August 6, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  24. vic nashville , Tn

    Thanks to CNN Rick Sanchez


    Rick scott couldn’t answer?

    Conservatives for Patients' Rights misleading us on health care reform

    Thanks to CNN

    August 6, 2009 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  25. Sniffit

    "And this is different from what they claim the GOP is doing how?"

    The DNC isn't telling people to be disruptive and hijack the meetings, but the RNC is.

    August 6, 2009 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
1 2 3 4 5