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. pt

    1. These politicians lied. People have been rejected for life treatments and accepted for death treatments. Abortions, sex changes, and other "optional" treatments have not been disallowed and their funding is a shell game.
    2. My parents' death consultation included how expensive the medical care was even though they were dying.
    3. Some of Obama's people, including his "czars," have already publicized their endorsements of preferences for work-aged adults than children and elderly, including saving the lives of dogs over disabled children.
    4. Health Care concerns are featured in horror/science fiction films and stories bringing up some of the same fears. It's human nature!

    August 11, 2009 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  2. Mike Sk

    I saw that lady the 35 year old Republican and again have to question what is she talking about? What does the Constitution have to do with health care reform? This anger from the GOP is just the fact they lost control of house,senate and the White House and can't take it. Funny when Bush-Cheney was voilating the Constitution almost monthly these same Republicans said nothing.

    August 11, 2009 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  3. surfdog san diego

    Got news for ya. The country is owned lock stock and barrel by corporations, who control our government. The takeover happened long ago. Getting universal health care is the opposite of what these brainwashed tools of the corporations claim–it's taking our tax money back from the corporations and their republican handmaidens. The shouters are ignorant.

    August 11, 2009 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  4. mattd

    Congress needs to realize they work for the american people and not Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid. I have never seen any group as arrogent or self serving as the democrats, lead by pelosi. Every dollar spent is another piece of the country sold to China. they are mor interested in illegal alliens then their own citizens. they are acting like traitors.

    August 11, 2009 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  5. Geoman

    Just something to think about. All members of congress have the best that socialized health care can offer.

    August 11, 2009 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  6. Rob

    can it be that these people who are protesting are really upset with the actions of the government?
    All I hear is how they are paid to do this.
    I dont believe it. We as americans have the right to free speech and that means we can speak up during politicians meetings.
    If Spector does not like that, then I guess he does not care too much for the Constitution of the United States.

    The easiest thing would be to let the American people vote for or against this health care. It is unfortunate that those who we vote into office for one reason turn on us for another.

    August 11, 2009 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  7. socalgal

    HURRAY – looks like a grassroots swell is a-comin'!!! Last time I read The Constitution, I don't remember reading that there was a social contract contained within. Nor one that said I should pay for such contract. Specter (and all you other DC power-leaching hooligans), where is your sense of self worth? Oh, sorry, those who feed at the public trough have none – only how much power you can usurp from your public can be transferred to you.

    August 11, 2009 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  8. JA/TN

    the irony, no anger during the Bush dictatorship

    August 11, 2009 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  9. tony kerckhoff

    i watched the meeting on CNN. It was orderly, no shouting, very concerned citizens asking intelligent questions in a polite manner. Specor was very polite and gave fairly decent answers. Don't why you media dummies have to make a sensational war out of this particular meeting.

    August 11, 2009 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  10. Robert E. K.

    Someone needs to ask in the media, "Why the people attending these town hall meetings seem to be all comprised of only one demographic being white, retired, 50 +, middle to upper middle class and anti any health care reform?" BTW I am a conservative libertarian Republican asking you in the media to ask this question on the air or in print at some point. My personal values reflect as conservative libertarian Republican a strong belief in a true meritocracy where the health insurance companies should be forced to compete with any and all options possible.

    PS Also please, people in the media, point out that holding these meetings during the weekday 9:00am to 5:00pm pretty much excludes all other demographics from attending.

    August 11, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  11. Billy from NC

    Whew. Things are getting ugly out there. Really ugly. In my area we are at the onset of a historic crime wave (my home has been robbed twice this year). The economy is getting worse and worse and it seems like no one is in charge. All you can do is try to ride it out and hope for the best and pray. All this government bunk is pure smoke and mirrors. The govt. is broke. I don't go around asking broke people for help.

    August 11, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  12. k scott

    These so called conservative republicans are the reason I left america and became a permanent rez of canada.In toronto I got sick last year, went to emergency room, waited 45 minutes, got to see the doctor, was prescribed antibiotics, then went to the pharmacy and got my drugs, total cost $5. the ignorance of republicans and nay-sayers= Priceless!!!!

    August 11, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  13. Doug, New Jersey

    Keep demonizing, attacking, lying about, and trashing everyday Americans who have paid their taxes, never commited a crime, and just want to continue to enjoy their great health care.

    Yes, we want reform, we want cheaper better care, but Obamacare is not that. Notice, not one lib will ever address the biggest reason why health care is so expensive lib-frivilous lawsuits. They wont because for their loyal voting base, it is known for them as the liberal lottery. If we could get every Democrat in America to have a quarter of the values of the average Republican, health care costs would be cut in half!

    BTW, libs, everyone has the internet, we can see what Sarah Palin actually stated, then see Dean is just another lib liar, euthanasia-ha, silly lib!

    August 11, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  14. single mom

    Maybe Senator Spector and others should check about the woman in Oregon. She was on a STATE run health care program similar to what Congress wants to ram through. She was 64 years old and had pancreatic cancer. The state refused to pay for the medicine that would have kept her alive
    It's not a vicious rumor. It HAPPENED! It happens in Europe. It will happen here. If you don't believe it will, I've some oceanfront property in Kansas to sell you.

    August 11, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  15. Carlos

    "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?" = parroting of the empty hyperbole infesting conservative talk shows. and the self-characterized Conservative Republicans in attendance are giving this a standing ovation...? how about some original thoughts and some clear arguments?

    August 11, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  16. Michael I Hastings Minnesota

    Doesn't want this country turning into Russia ??

    Do these people actually have a 2nd grade or higher education , the sheer ingnorance of these so called conservitives is frightening

    August 11, 2009 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  17. Goodman Fredrick

    Taking care your own is part of defending your country. If people are not healthy who will defend you?

    August 11, 2009 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  18. Bill

    People who are fighting healthcare reform are unpatriotic, uncaring, and unAmerican, self-centered egotists!

    August 11, 2009 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  19. Darko

    Obviously a paid organizer, eh? Such bull. That is one ticked off average joe citizen who has probably read 10x more of the bill than Spector has.

    "The Dems will overreach" is the understatement of the year. No one thought that they'd actually call concerned citizens 'thugs, nazi's and mobs'.

    Self destruct mode? yup.

    August 11, 2009 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  20. Jake AZ

    Boiled Madam ... boiled!

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

    It is truly sad to see these people who supposedly care about our country ruin what are supposed to be genuine debates about much needed health care reform...the GOP and these self described conservative Republicans are a mere 'freak show' at this point...It is sad that people with REAL health care issues have to be yelled at and demeaned in public by people who are merely there to disrupt and cause chaos for there own glorification...congratulations again GOP you are showing your true colors, and what you have become...may the country see the light and throw out the rest of the GOP in 2010!!!

    August 11, 2009 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  22. Debbie

    I'm embarassed for these people, and in shock over what is happening in this debate. Their understanding of what Democracy is and what our Constitution stands for is distorted beyond comprehension. I hope they represent on a small fraction of Americans.

    August 11, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  23. Bill, Bloominton IL

    note the typical democratic response: I wont tolerate any booing, I will throw you out (along with the first amendment).

    August 11, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  24. Thom Provost

    One angry man yelling is not a "hostile crowd"...please just report and stop using propaganda language. I have been to numerous anti-war rallies...that is a hostlie crowd. One old man using foul language is nothing but one old man using foul language. Please if you can not simply report, if you have to use exaggerate to share "news", do not even bother putting your hands on the keyboard

    August 11, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  25. fred

    This does not give justice to the unintelligence that showed up to the meeting. One man received applause for demanding bills be written at a middle school level. Are you serious?!?!? Thats the summary of the people who are crying about becoming socialists because the government wants to change their health care plans. These people have no clue.

    August 11, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
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