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. Jay

    Specter is one of the most moderate independent minded senators in the the Senate. He's too liberal for Republicans and too conservative for Democrats. He is the 12th most senior senator and is someone I respect even though I disagree with him often. I think he handled this situation quite well no matter how you feel about health care.

    August 11, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  2. Robin in Tampa, FL

    I would like to go to one of these town halls just to voice my support for the bill, unfortunately I'm also *very* worried some lunatic will show up at one of these meeting and end up hurting people.

    August 11, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  3. Chuck

    Sad that republicans who choose not to even allow debate within their own party are now stifling healthy debate overall. Reality is it's a bill that's still being shaped, thus such angry reactions show ignorance and a lack of understanding for the process. I hope in general people are smarter then these folks and look at the bill and provide constructive feedback to their representatives on how we can best fix healthcare. Sad part is, if successful they will kill any bill and we will remain being the rest of the advanced nations in providing healthcare for all our citizens.

    August 11, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  4. Eddie

    Oh don't you Libs get so upset, know all these "Un-American" folks are nothing more than a few "astro-turf wackos" and have no real impact on your liberal agenda!.....NOT!

    August 11, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  5. Dave in Illinois

    Arlen Specter is a self-serving politican without any principles. His major concern is how he's going to get re-elected to his cushy job with all the perks it provides including the best health care plan in the country. If he thought running as a Libertarian would ensure his victory, he'd change party again tomorrow. He'll vote for or against the healthcare bill based only on the votes it will garner in the next election, not on what it will do to the country.

    August 11, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  6. Eric Fisk

    It is just old people who have been sitting around eating peanuts, drinking wine, and being couch potatoes forever now scared of their own shadow.

    August 11, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  7. Anonymous

    People are being manipulated by both sides of the aisle, the political machine knows that if you divide the people in opposite directions, then the result is zero movement, they don't have to make an unpopular decision which could effect their lifetime in government office and they can claim they are just doing what the people want them to do. We have a constitutional right to be heard by our representatives, and town hall meetings are "supposed" to be the place to "get in touch" with their constituents at an informal setting, rather strange that these meetings are so scripted, it was done during Bush's administration and it continues into today. Funny how lobbyists can get uninterrupted time with these same politicians both democrat and republican, so that their viewpoint can be heard (and usually acted on), all it takes is a little money.

    August 11, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  8. Ken

    When 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."

    How can anyone read this and not conclude that the answer to the question was yes?

    This is why Americans hold our elected representatives in such disrespect. 80% of Americans were against TARP, the vast majority were against the Auto Union Bailout (company went bankrupt anyway, should have been done without the unconstitutional stealing from the tax payers), the stimulus plan is nothing but pork for Democrat supporters. Our leaders ignore the tax payers. What is left to do but raise our voices?

    August 11, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  9. Phil in Oregon

    Follow the lobbyists. These useful idiots are trotted out by Big Health Care and Big Pharma. "Yell a lot," they are told. That they do. What a pathetic abuse of free speech.

    August 11, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  10. Michael

    It's a shame that instead of a well constructed, civilized response to the healthcare plan, Republicans insist on lies to scare seniors and disruptive protest by ignorant people. Where did all the adults on the right wing go?

    August 11, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  11. Samir

    If Mr Obama feels that the Health Care bill is the right way to go then why dont he and all the white house staff and along with all his supporter in congress sign themselves up for this program. You know what why does he not sign up the whole of the federal government for this plan if he really believes in this plan.

    August 11, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  12. Tammy

    This is ridiculous!!!

    This people are an embarrassment!!!!!
    There are no excuses for this behavior.

    85% of Americans say the want health care change.

    These are the 15% that want the status quo!!

    The shouting is turning off people who would normally listen to their concerns and answer questions.

    Grow up and learn how to debate! My 6 year knows better!

    August 11, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  13. Jack

    I didn't think I would ever align myself as one of the "silent majority" but here it comes! These conservatives and Republicans that seem to make up the majority of attendees were collectively unimpressive both in their knowledge of the issue and demeanor.
    The old man Spector handled himself well with all these nuts, but the majority of his time was wasted as an avenue for a platform to these Limbaugh/Paliin ditto heads (not to) ask pertinent questions, but blather about misapprehensions. Just think...only time for 30 questions – let's talk about becoming another Russia! Or death panels!
    Obama will have a better time at the school he's going to for a forum. He'll probably find a better informed and more mature audience!

    August 11, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  14. Ian

    This entire thing is just a huge joke. NOBODY but politicians and hardcore lefties want a government run healthcare option in this country. I bet if you put THAT question on a ballot (which no one ever will) it would get shot down by 80% of voters.

    Once you open that Pandora's Box you're cooked. It's nothing but a sure-fire hop, skip, and jump to fully socialized medicine which has been a DISASTER everywhere it's been tried.

    Quit shoving this down our throats. WE DON'T WANT IT!!

    August 11, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  15. R Wolf

    For the most part, Republicans are bullys who only want their ideas expressed and implemented. Well, the rest of us had to put up with eight long and miserable years under their rule, so move over and let the rest of us live our lives with compassion, intelligence and better ideas. Like you used to say decades ago, "Love it or leave it.

    August 11, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  16. Adam

    I watch and listen to these town hall meetings,
    American Idiocracy at it's best.
    BOOOO! the boogie man is coming.

    August 11, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  17. Obama 08/12

    So now all of a sudden these "conservatives" care about the constitution? They sure didn't seem to care when Bush and Cheney completely disregarded it for eight long years. And how is health care reform destroying the constitution??? Are there any functioning brain cells in these people??

    August 11, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  18. Steven

    This is getting scary and worrisome. It has long been noted that there is an extreme element in the US, but with the death threats, the shouting down of opposing opinions and now this? How can anything get accomplished in this environment? What are they thinking?

    August 11, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  19. toray99

    The government controlled media is trying to spin this into a partisan issue which it is clearly not. People are seeing that democrats and republicans are BOTH liars. BOTH parties are sent out to destroy the USA. Only good ones are Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul, all the rest are bought and payed for by corporation lobbyists and special interest. People want government out of their lives. No to cap and trade. What about HR 1207 to audit the FED. Where did all that money go ? Bernanke will not answer where the money went, Did it go to off-shore banks ?
    Ever wonder why the government controlled media doesn't ask the right questions ? They keep us dumbed down with circus clowns and jugglers. People have to get the real news by the underground media.

    August 11, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  20. Craig Simpson

    What a bunch of mis-informed idiots who are mis-led by republican right wing extremists.

    These people are jokes!

    August 11, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  21. Rich

    I think Specter handled the situation well.

    August 11, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  22. Robert - Florida

    GIt yer dadgummed Govement hands off my Medicare! Yeeeeehaaa!!!

    The Fox News Fanatics strike again. Oh well, I guess it's better to be left to die by a private sector bueraucrat than a government one.

    August 11, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  23. Torin from Georgia

    Thanks to Sarah Palin's remarks that Obama's Health Care plan contains a provision for "death panels" and to other malicious rumors and lies about the plan, many folks are in a panic. We need, however, civil discourse concerning the merits of the multiple plans that are
    pending in Congressional committees. It is up to Republicans as well as Democrats to smooth the waters so that we can engage in this debate. It is too bad the ideological conservative Republicans have fanned the flames instead of calmed the waters.

    August 11, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  24. GA Resident

    Why can't people disagree without being disagreeable? The more voices are raised to shouting levels, the more others stopped listening the points they are trying to make. And those may have been valid points that would aid in the debate to develop the best proposal for healthcare reform. Yelling doesn't ensure you get heard; most often it does the opposite because people shut down (and don't hear the underlying point) due to the rudeness and inconsideration in which the viewpoint is presented.

    August 11, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  25. barb

    Must be that GOP backbone, the rest are looking for every excuse they can not too face the people.

    August 11, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
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