August 11th, 2009
12:27 PM ET
9 years ago

Specter faces angry crowd at town hall meeting

LEBANON, Pennsylvania (CNN) - A hostile crowd shouted questions and made angry statements against overhauling the health-care system at a town hall meeting Tuesday led by Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter.

The meeting drew an overflow crowd of 250 people, with more gathered outside the hall to demonstrate for and against President Barack Obama's push to expand health insurance for 46 million people now without coverage while bringing down costs.

It was the latest in a series of emotional public meetings on the health-care issue that have prompted Obama and Democratic leaders to complain of a campaign by opponents to drown out the debate with unruly disruptions.

At one point, Specter shouted into his microphone that demonstrators disrupting the proceedings would be thrown out.

"We're not going to tolerate any demonstrations or any booing," he said after one audience member shoved another making an unsolicited speech. "So it's up to you."

Many in the crowd identified themselves as conservative Republicans, with one man noting they had voted Specter to Congress before the senator changed parties earlier this year.

Related video: Watch more of Specter's Tuesday town hall

A woman prompted a standing ovation by telling Specter: "I don't believe this is just health care. This is about the systematic dismantling of this country. … I don't want this country turning into Russia, turning into a socialized country. What are you going to do to restore this country back to what our founders created, according to the Constitution?"

Specter responded by noting his support for the Constitution as a past chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee on issues such as warrantless wiretaps.

"When you ask me to defend the Constitution, that's what I've been doing," Specter said.

However, Specter also noted that overhauling the health-care system is about America taking care of all its people.

"In our social contract, we have provisions that see to it that you take care of people who need some help," he said.

Several people asked if a health-care bill would mean taxpayer dollars would pay for others to get abortions. Specter responded that any measure passed by Congress would allow people to choose a plan that didn't cover abortions.

The senator agreed with the crowd on some issues, saying he opposes mandatory counseling on end-of-life issues called for in a House version of health-care legislation. Specter also vowed he would never support any bill that increased the federal deficit or took away a person's right to choose their health-care coverage.

"I am opposed to anybody making a decision for you or me or anybody else about what health-care plan we should have," he said.

Emotions ran high, with questioners complaining of government intrusion in their lives on health care and other issues. One man implored Specter and the government to "leave us alone," while another said the message Specter should take back to Washington is that he and others "want our country back."

The shoving incident occurred early in the 90-minute session, when a man started shouting that he had been told by Specter's staff that he could speak, but he didn't get one of the 30 cards distributed to people allowing them to ask questions. Another man stood up and shoved the protester, and Specter approached the men shouting for calm.

"You and your cronies in government do this kind of stuff all the time," the protester shouted before leaving the hall. "I'm not a lobbyist with all kinds of money to stuff in your pockets. I'll leave you so you can do whatever the hell you do."

Specter remained calm most of the time, except when a woman asked if the bill meant a 74-year-old man with cancer would be written off by an overhauled health-care system. He responded angrily, calling such a scenario a "vicious" rumor.

The senator also tried to inject some humor, making sure to thank the lone person among the 30 questioners who supported health-care reform.

Obama calls a health-care overhaul essential for ensuring long-term economic stability.

However, congressional action on a health-care overhaul has slowed due to strong Republican opposition. Neither chamber met Obama's desired goal of passing a bill before their August recess.

In particular, the Republicans and some Democrats reject a government-funded public health insurance option, which they believe would lead to a government takeover of the health-care system. Most Democrats want a public option to ensure coverage is available to virtually all Americans and provide competition to private insurers.

Updated: 12:27 p.m.

Filed under: Arlen Specter • Health care • Pennsylvania • Popular Posts
soundoff (294 Responses)
  1. RR

    Specter is NOT there to listen; he's there to justify his stance and sell his position. He, like nearly every other member of congress, has already made up his mind.

    August 11, 2009 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  2. Mississippi Mike

    Republicans are habitually booed, protested and disrupted. Has it really been that long since he was a Republican? Maybe if he wasn't such an obvious turncoat his constituents would have a few shreds of respect for him. For those in his state who neither respect him or the health care bill. Keep up the pressure!

    August 11, 2009 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  3. LIP

    Turncoats should be thrown out as well. Perhaps the voters will do all of America a favor and toss the bum out next time around

    August 11, 2009 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  4. william

    PLANTED AUDIENCE. Paid for by the bloated pharmaceutical industry.

    Did you notice the single demographic in attendance? Did you notice that this audience in no way represented the generally accepted view of the majority of America?

    PLANTED AUDIENCE. This is representative of America, and this is NOT news.

    August 11, 2009 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  5. A. Goodwin

    Republican leaders need to take a deep look into their souls and determine if the want to continue to sell them to the devil or wake up and use their brains! The misinformation being spread by Republican leaders is GROSS. And unfortunately, there is a huge crowd of right-wing fanatics who act completely uneducated – because they are being fed one lie after another.

    Republican's look pathetic, and what's worse – they are going to let American's suffer without adequate health care if they do not stop their campaign of lies.

    August 11, 2009 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  6. Proud Member..Party of No

    Dr. Mengele would love the Obama Healthcare Plan but everybody else should hate it.

    August 11, 2009 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  7. PeterJ

    If I were Specter, at his age, I would be having no part of this bill, wait, he won't be affected by it, only we will.

    August 11, 2009 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  8. Joe

    All I can think of are the thug tactics used so effectively by the Nazis back in the thirties. And they were accusing their opponents of trying to turn the country into a socialist state, too. How sad, and scary, that the right wing crazies have no other ideas than to use these methods. Shame on the republicans and shame on the status quo lobby.

    August 11, 2009 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  9. Tim Hatton

    I honestly don't care about anyone's opinion anymore. Both sides of this argument have shouted, insulted, and name-called so much I am in a state of apathy.

    August 11, 2009 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  10. christi

    I would like to know when American citizens became so dumbed down that they were incapable of having a civil discussion concerning anything? Have American citizens gradually become dumb, rude, shallow, etc.? Or has it just happened? It makes me wonder what the hell is going on? This is America, the world watches us and this is what we show as a sign of democracy?

    August 11, 2009 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  11. Terry from Texas

    A very large percentage of our population is delusional. This is a shock to me. Who, but a crazy person, can imagine that Democrats want to change America into a Stalinist state? Who, but a crazy person, can see our government as a threat to their liberties. It is government, especially the federal government, that has defended and expanded the rights of minorities and women. There was a time when the participation of women in politics was not welcome. The woman who shouts about turning America into Russia can speak so boldly only because the federal government has spent decades protecting and expanding the rights of women.

    These delusional hooligans are going to become a much larger problem as time goes by, especially if Conservatism continues to lose on election day, may God so will it.

    August 11, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  12. Randolph Carter

    One woman prompted a standing ovation by telling Specter: "I don't believe this is just health care. This is about the systematic dismantling of this country. … I don't want this country turning into Russia, turning into a socialized country. What are you going to do to restore this country back to what our founders created, according to the Constitution?"

    Hmm... Paranoid much? Have a nice day!

    August 11, 2009 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  13. AndreiNFL

    Lol @ protesters being scared America will turn into a socialized nation. It would be extremely difficult for this to take place. Only thing that will be socialized here is medicine.

    August 11, 2009 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  14. Expat American

    .....I don't want this country turning into Russia, turning into a socialized country....
    Enough said as to where, intellectually, many of these ‘protestors’ are really coming from.

    God Bless America.

    August 11, 2009 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  15. Respect

    Conservative Republican's – can we dismantle medicare, medicaid, social security and everything else government run. Let us only keep the military and police stations. We don't need fire departments, what a socialist idea that I must pay for putting out someone elses home that is on fire. My house is not on fire. Can we stop giving money to foreign countries? That is socialism.

    August 11, 2009 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  16. Kevin B

    I see the GOP nut cakes are still out bullying and peddling thier fear and misguided conspiracy theorys and willfully mis-informing as many americans as possible.

    In the end the GOP and thier insurance lobby masters will fail and average americans win.

    August 11, 2009 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  17. Lori in St Pete

    So the "YESs" and "NOs" are civil at rethuglican town halls, but dem town halls turn into free for alls. In other words, the dems/YESs listen politely to the opposition, but the opposition would rather scream and throw punches than let the organizer speak. They don't need to attend town hall meetings – they need to be guests on the Jerry Springer show.

    August 11, 2009 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  18. Phil

    The government better listen up. The people are not happy. This ridiculous health care "reform" was teh final straw that broke the peoples backs.

    August 11, 2009 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  19. Some republican guy

    I just heard on Fox news that the new healthcare plan will not cover my crystal meth. Dangit! Have a nice day!

    August 11, 2009 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  20. Stacy from Leesburg, VA

    A woman believes this is the “systematic dismantling of this country”? Wow, the insurance industry fueled fear mongers really did a number on her. If she wants to restore this country back to what the founders created, she should support a repeal of the Patriot Act, stand against warrantless wiretaps, and stand against torture. Also, don’t label and name call, but listen to all sides before making a decision on how you feel about the issue.

    August 11, 2009 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  21. Gerald

    This man has no shame , Please be real Americans and vote him out of office.

    August 11, 2009 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  22. Doraine Gordon

    These people are just wasting their energy when they jump up and down and raise cain at these Town Hall meetings. When all is said and done the Representatives will pass the Health Reform bill. So all their energy has been wasted. Don't they know this?

    August 11, 2009 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  23. Nancy - Houston

    Not to worry; I think everyone is aware of who is behind all the misinformation being put out there, the shouting, shoving, etc. Hopefully, it won't work this time. Pres. Obama is dispelling all this rubbish by speaking out with the straight poop, so I suggest getting it right from the horse's mouth rather than from the rowdies.

    August 11, 2009 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  24. beevee

    How stupid the people who are disturbing the townhall meetings on health care can be. They are just being used by the special interest groups since these groups know fear mongering tactics always work to go against things the governemnt proposes. Wake up guys and think for yourself and don't be puppets in some body's hands.

    August 11, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  25. Real-Repub

    Sorry Arlen. You have no credibility. Your current party will throw you to the wolves and your old party realizes you are just there because you like the perks and job.
    And by the way: What Social Contract!?

    August 11, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
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