August 11th, 2009
12:27 PM ET
5 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. Predicta

    Specter's in big trouble. Switching parties when the democrats approval ratings are dropping like a rock will be toxic to his re-election efforts. You can mark this as a Repub seat in the next election. He is finished.

    August 11, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  2. Kimberly

    I agree that we should help American people get the medical attention that they need, however, I am very concerned about my hard earned money paying for health care for the millions of illegal immigrants that do not and will not contribute to pay for this so called "overhaul." How is this fair?

    August 11, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  3. RNC = DNC = politics as usual

    Obama made fun of the Clintons running into trouble when they tried to reform health care.

    Not as easy as it looked, huh? You mean the country won't just roll over and take your word for it?

    Messiah meets Reality. Question Authority!

    August 11, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  4. Tom

    He supports the Constitution, and yet states that there is some "social contract" that apparently trumps it?

    It's wonderful that we live in a society where people willingly lend a hand to those that need help. It's outrageous that people like Specter think that enforced charity is somehow in keeping with the Constitution.

    The guy must think his constituents are all morons, or he's a moron himself. Or both.

    August 11, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  5. Thomas, Baton Rouge, LA

    methinks thou doth protest too much.....

    August 11, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  6. eddoc in Atlanta

    CNN, why haven't you given equal time to the thoughtful, civil meeting that took place with Rep Hank Johnson in Atlanta yesterday?

    August 11, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  7. James, New York

    I think the most important aspect of this meeting, which of course has been overlooked, is when the issue of term limits came into the meeting. Specter side stepped the issue as usual. How can Obama, or anyone else ever expect change when congressional leaders in both houses can sit back getting fat on lobbyist money? The real root of all issues from healthcare to the economy is the continual entrenchment of the lethargic, apathetic elite.

    August 11, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  8. Just Saying...

    What I don't get is these people stand up, but they have nothing to say othen than yell. New Rule: If you disrupt a town hall, you have to have something intellegent to say...

    August 11, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  9. Eric

    man these folks are angry.

    August 11, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  10. PatC

    Note he responded visciously but no facts to discredit the "so called rumor". In the early 20th Century at Town Halls the Government said it was a rumor that Income Tax would have to be paid by more than the top 1%. In the 1930s Politicians went to Town Halls and visciously attacked citizens saying it is a rumor that you will ever pay more than 3% for Social Security. Obama attacked people viscously when signing the Stimulus saying it was a rumor that unemployment would go above 8% if the Stimulus is passed. Now who do you trust on this Specter and the Government or the Private Citizen? Choose the Government at the same peril as all the others have.

    August 11, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  11. louee

    Just another indication that Americans are a bunch of morons who are too dumb to discern what is good for them. These screaming people have been manipulated by the Rushes and the Seans, etc. to think healthcare reform involves socialism, of all the ridiculous things, when in fact these right wing creeps' only interest is funneling money to their corporate cronies. Talk about socialism! Wake up people! You are being used against your own interests! This country will never progress as long as these luddites command any political power.

    August 11, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  12. Pete

    You Republicans are right. Lets get rid of all the programs that lean to the socialisist side such as Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps programs, Unemployment Insurance and any other silly program that is meant to help AMERICANS when they are struggling because our businesses want to make more money for themselves and their investors. Wake Up. Helping a person when they are down is 100% American, unlesss you don't have a brain in your head and believe all this Republican propaganda. Wake Up people. We live as a country and die as a country. Helping your fellow man is the right thing to do.

    August 11, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  13. RDS

    Honestly, how do you compete with somebody who is arguing based on conspiracy theories? You can't obviously logic and reasoning isn't going to work. Not a single one of these people have any facts to prove what they are saying is true, but hey this is America nobody needs facts they just need a t.v. show on Fox or a radio program to make up stuff so that confused people around the country take what they say as absolute fact. The bill is roughly a 1000 pages double spaced which is a little over 500 pages, I bet 99% of the people who are so angry haven't even read the bill to know what's in it. They make themselves look dumb b/c they are arguing against stuff that's not even in the bill! And the actually things they could be arguing about are not even mentioned.

    August 11, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  14. P.Y. Los Angeles

    I was watching this town hall from beginning to the end .
    Sen. Specter repeated more than 4 times,that senate does not have a bill,only proposals.
    And the question is...
    If they don't have it,what are they selling ?
    And why??

    August 11, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  15. Deb/Alabama

    You know it is really sad that people do not get to the facts before they start yelling and complaining about changes. I know people are scared of change but they need to read and listen before joining in with the instigators and disbelievers. One of my aunts said it would be the ruin of her if the health care reform bill passed. I asked her how could that happen. She did not know how to answer, she had heard them talking on tv. People, read about the proposals that the congressmen are discussing, it is imperative that the insurance companies do not continue with the huge profits at our expense. Our premiums go up continually with no end in sight. We need help.

    August 11, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  16. EDR

    The article says "However, congressional action on a health-care overhaul has slowed due to strong Republican opposition."

    HELLO!!! The process was slowed by blue dog Democrats. Democrats hold enough votes to pass whatever they want, without Republican support.

    By the way, if this is all so urgent since Obama was sworn in as President, why was he and other Democrats not pushing for these things in the previous 2 years, when Democrats were in the majority?

    August 11, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  17. Dale

    To the News Media's.

    We the people are sick and tired of you covering up information and taking sides. NBC your terrible, Don't you support the American people?

    Spector should have been the one thrown out. The people are telling you ignorant people NO, you are swinging it a different direction and saying we are just acting. No acting, listen to the people.
    By the way Mr. Spector, who do you think you are? You won't tolerate? The American people are the ones that need to be saying that. You are nothing more than an "ELECTED" official. You are not listening to the people that voted for you. Thrown this guy out of office and watch how many more follow him.

    This is a free country and you so called leaders are failing, 2010 we are replacing all you thugs. You should be in prison for going against the American people like this.

    August 11, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  18. Tatianna

    American citizens have every right to be angry. Our gals n boys in Washington keep pushing the envelope of govt control and had no idea how big a backlash can erupt when its people are pushed too fast n far. Labeling policy dissenters as unAmericans means America has lost its way and our constitution is null n void

    August 11, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  19. kevin

    all these jokers are crooks. everyone in government is a crook. lets throw them all out, starting with the Dems. please wake up america

    August 11, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  20. craig

    My advice tto Pres. Obama is to drop the whole health care debate. Let these people continue to be taken advantage of by the insurance companies. The GOP wants the status quo, because they are highly compensated by these giants.

    These people do not know when they are being had, I don't think the dems know exactly what they are doing either, but where was all the outrage years ago? Healthcare costs are the biggest cause of bankruptcy in America, If you get sick you might aswell die because your life is screwed. If these people like that sort of thing, I say let them have it. I say let the illegals get all the free healthcare. Then who will they blame for that?

    August 11, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  21. Sniffit

    And BTW, learn something: irrespective of whether this bill is "socialism" or not, the Constitution does not prohibit socialism. Suck on that, morons.

    August 11, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  22. barrystash

    Mr. Obama – tell your followers to stop the hateful acts and violence. If you and your followers both in and out of Congress refuse the will of people this is going to spill into the streets. You will have to kill us all to install your Marxist dictatorship.

    August 11, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  23. donnie

    I hope there is more discussions open but not like this one where a senator that is mad about not being asked to run for pres. switches parties after being elected by rep. is in total control of a town meeting.he can talk all he wants to but he is all washed up and just refuses to believe it. switch parties to get elected may just backfire in his face I suggest he takes all the loot he has gotten in many ways and realizes he is too old to know what is even going on in the average citizens day to day trek and just go somewhere and forget his ego being bruised.

    August 11, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  24. ANDROLOMA, Commerce City, Colorado

    Exactly what kind of health care system was in place when the forefathers founded this great country? Was it socialized, or corporatized? Since we've allowed capitalism its chance to run roughshod over mismanaging this aspect of our lives, why not let a government-mandated socialism its chance? Can it be done any worse?

    Why don't Americans want the better health care delivered than Europeans get? Aren't we good enough for the best? Or must we relegate ourselves to the same substandard treatment and cheating by insurance companies until we can no longer afford to sustain our lives? What good is a life enslaved to a unaffordable conveyance?

    So many questions, and the answerers are frauds...

    August 11, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  25. Mike Mundy, Houston, TX

    These Liberals just don't get it. Once they go into "Detox" from the Obama win high, only then will they come back to their senses and listen to "We the People". Though I believe even this is out of reach at this point.

    This radical overhaul by Obama, Pelosi and Reid, was never presented like this in the presidential campaign. Had it been, perhaps we would be saying President McCain instead. This is what you get, when media objectivness is put aside, they jump into bed with Obama, while the lacked ANY scrutiny of the man, when he ran for President. So you then expect average Americans to not feel frustrated at these town halls??? Think about it!!! P.S. Campbell Brown is also dilusional!!

    August 11, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
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