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. Kevin in Ohio

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

    He obviously does not understand the concepts of free speech and dissent.

    We will not be silenced.

    August 11, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  2. noting they had voted Specter to Congress before the senator changed parties earlier this year

    I would be upset with Specter as well if I were a GOPer, as a democrat I wish he would retire

    the Pennsylvainia meeting sounded like a good debate, minus the shoving, with people actually saying how they feel, stating their reasons and even once there voting with their feet to show the politicians they totally give up on the town hall

    All much better than the previous protestors with hitler signs

    August 11, 2009 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  3. Ed

    Wish I could be at one of these town hall meetings when these people say they are upset about being lied to by the government and that this health care reform is going to increase the deficit. Who do you think started this tremendous deficit ??? BUSH!!! And what was all the money spent on? A war that he and his administration LIED about and for which my grandkids will pay for. Never hear any of these Republicans complain about that though. I guess it's fine to waste taxpayer billions and trillions on a fake excuse for a war than to spend it helping Americans.

    August 11, 2009 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  4. I'll Never Vote Republican Again

    Remember People. This is not about healthcare. This is about a BLACK man in the White House. Where were these angry white people when Bush was spending THEIR money?

    Everything Obama does comes under scrutiny. Come on people, do you really expect this administration to fix the mess the Republicans created overnight? He has not been in office for a year, so it is unfair to criticize him at this point.

    To the lady crying, "I want my country back": Who took your country away? The answer is: Those gangster Republicans who hijacked Washington!!

    August 11, 2009 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  5. Ben Murray

    Our politicians want healthcare so here is one that should be done. How about all the politicians have the same healthcare that we do. I think that we would see one of the best changes that has ever been done for this country. Thank you. Ben Murray

    August 11, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  6. nick

    It is obvious that the Republicans have neither a sense of shame or decorum. This reminds me of Newt Gingrich and I would not be surprised if the sleeze ball was behind these lynch mob tactics.

    August 11, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  7. S.Hayes

    This was not an angry crowd as you have described it. I watched the entire town hall and it was very organized, but all the questions were not answered.

    August 11, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  8. Mark L.

    How Do You Spell Republican? Answer: F...A....C...I...S...T....!!

    August 11, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  9. Erik in Real Pennsylvania

    The town hall screamers are angry and afraid about things they’ve read in chain e-mails and propaganda websites, or heard from Fox News shills. But when they get together in a room with one of the people actually WRITING the legislation, they make it impossible to receive any accurate information with all the screaming and chanting and otherwise not asking questions and listening to answers. That’s. Just. Dumb.

    August 11, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  10. Diane

    I watched the entire Spector segment; aside from the first gentleman who was rather rude the rest of the crowd was respectful, informed, thoughtful and quiet.

    August 11, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  11. Patricia A. Schenk

    After listening to what this gentleman had to say I have to tell you he didn't say anything about health care. He just wanted to tell the Senator that God would take care of him. What a bunch of bull. I am an Independent but like many others are getting tired of this. We don't know what is right and you people who are screaming and yelling are sure not giving us a chance to find out.

    August 11, 2009 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  12. Jean (Plantation, FL)

    It appears to me that all of the protesters are republicans. Is it something about republicans vs democrats? We need to check that above all other things. How come mostly republicans are worried about health care. We need to pay attention to this kind of activities. It's not about health care anynore. These mobs need to be chased away from the townhall meetings. They are republicans with their own agenda.

    August 11, 2009 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  13. Pam

    More people believing the pack of lies touted by Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck. People need to start thinking for themselves.

    August 11, 2009 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  14. ChicagoJim

    Freedom of speech is not a guarantee of an unfettered shouting match at a town hall meeting. These meetings are held as a civic exercize in encouraging input into the process by ordinary citizens. They are held at the pleasure of the elected law makers. The disruptors are going to stifle debate on important issues because there is nothing in our Constitutional right to freedom of speech that requires an elected law maker to hold a town meeting. I, for one, would not blame the elected law makers if they suspended these riotous meetings in order to protect their safety and the safety of attendees.

    August 11, 2009 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  15. Annie

    How shocking................Pennsylvania once again becomes violent over something the Government is trying to do to help people. What do you expect from a State that produces animals such as the fine, upstanding young men that recently received slaps on the wrist for a violent crime in Shenandoah.


    August 11, 2009 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  16. Arron

    If these crackpot right wing "birthers" and "deathers", who created a huge mess after 8 years of GOP rule, think reforming health insurance is a bad idea, then it must be a GREAT IDEA!

    August 11, 2009 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  17. Mark

    Whenever Republicans don't like an idea, they raise the flag of Socialism, Communism and lately Terrorism. Why are they afraid of health reform? It's because the medical industry is making billions off the sick and the elderly. They say how horrible nationalized healtcare in other countries is and how much more advanced our system here is. Our system here is only advanced for those that can afford it and bleeds the last cent out of those who can't.

    August 11, 2009 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  18. Pat F

    Arlen, for once in your pathetic, hack, bought-and-paid-for life, LISTEN to your constituents.


    That should be simple enough even for you.

    August 11, 2009 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  19. Willy Brown

    No Bush to blame. We really are the problem since we was voted in 2006. Buh, bye democrats!

    August 11, 2009 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  20. Dave

    NO health care changes unless congress has to be on the same plan. So far they have said NO which means the new system would be lousy.

    August 11, 2009 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  21. W. Art

    You know, I'm beginning to believe more and more these confrontations are indeed orchestrated. This is becoming ridiculous that adults are letting themselves be reduced to such "craziness".

    I guess they want be happy until someone is seriously injured or killed. Then the their fingers will be pointed in all directions and I guess then we'll see who is actually behind all this.

    Hopefully a solution will be worked out and people voices will be heard without shoving matches.

    August 11, 2009 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  22. Sambo

    These people are acting more worse than children. Grow up. This is a democracy. Stop shouting people down like morons.

    August 11, 2009 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  23. Chris

    Notice that "Specter responded that any measure passed by Congress would allow people to choose a plan that didn't cover abortions." This is a clever refusal to answer the question which allowed Specter to sound as though he was answering the question. Someone choosing a plan that doesn't cover abortions (most likely a private plan) does not mean that tax payers would not still be paying for the public plan, which, quite possibly, would cover abortions for others.

    I don't currently have health insurance, but I hardly think it's my patriotic duty to demand that those who can afford health insurance pay for mine. It sounds more like a spirit of entitlement to me.

    August 11, 2009 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  24. Jack V. Buck

    Health-Care Reform in any flavor simply will not work unless the underlying reasons for runaway costs are addressed. First we have to cap malpractice awards then we have to cap drug prices. Unless the greed of lawyers and big business is controlled it's useless trying to reform health-care.

    August 11, 2009 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  25. Tia

    Everyone seem to be in such a panic over the health care plan. One woman stated are we going to become socialist like Russa. She needs to get her facts together because theSoviet Union collapsed in 1991 forming a free economy that replaced the socialist economy . The health insurance I have through my employer is horrible. I have to pay hundres of dollars each year to see my doctor for my Rheumatoid Arthritis and they did not cover my doctor for the 1st year of coverage because of a "pre-existing condition".

    August 11, 2009 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
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