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. morgan thomas

    All Congressman, not just Spector, better wake up to the fact that people are tired of Congress lying to them. The airplane deal in the pentagon, the insurance debate; it all stinks. And Congress just keeps on lying and doing what they want. The insurance deal will be just another deal to give "free stuff" to the Mexicans that the taxpayers will end up paying for.

    August 11, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  2. Ambergris

    The drug companies and their cronies have worked hard to make it look as though people don't want change in health care as it is today.

    They figure that if they make enough noise and annoy enough people, demand for change will all go away.

    Sorry, folks, that's just not going to happen.

    August 11, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  3. Mary

    Why do we even listen to these crackpots? It's clear that the Republicans have completely lost their minds.

    August 11, 2009 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  4. BDavis

    These angry people are crazy. Just pass the healthcare bill and hope they all loses their minds afterwards and we won't have to deal with them anymore when another bill tries to pass.

    August 11, 2009 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  5. Jackie

    This "angry crowd" was organized by the good ole' GOP. They have now stooped to an all-time low.

    August 11, 2009 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  6. george from alaska baloney. anyone that thinks these "protests" are anything other than orchestrated bull crap is one brick short of a load. apparently it's easy to dupe ignorant right wing buffoons & rednecks into acting like spoiled children.

    August 11, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  7. Larry

    I'll bet the man who shoved the protester was one of his buddies who was also hired by the Republican Nazi Party to disrupt the meeting.

    August 11, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  8. Mindi/Denver

    They look like they just step out of the Jerry Springer show....probably did.

    August 11, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  9. RH

    People like this just make me hang my head in shame.

    August 11, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  10. BDavis

    Have you noticed that the people in the crowds are old white angry ugly men & women?

    August 11, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  11. Casey


    August 11, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  12. Erasmus

    These "conservative Republican" citizens probably have no idea how the violation of their civil rights under the prior administration took them closer to a totalitarian state than reform of a bloated health care system ever could. I wonder how many of them are aware that the Supreme Court has taken a case for hearing in September, before its regular term, where the issue is the repeal of an over one hundred year law banning corporate funding of political campaigns? There may be enough conservative votes to ensure that political offices can be bought outright by the biggest corporate donors, who then will get in line for another free handout for their bonuses. Please show me where that concept is in the Constitution and how that would not be legislating from the bench.

    August 11, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  13. JR

    I spoke to someone the other day with views similar to those conservative Republicans above. When I asked what she thought about a single-payer system, she had no idea what I was talking about. I think it's time for conservative Republicans to stop getting their information from mass e-mails and word of mouth, do their own research, and get informed through proper channels. It's like these people will believe anything they're told, such as the bill including language concerning "death committees." I feel sad for true conservatives that know what they're talking about, because these people are really giving a bad impression.

    August 11, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  14. George

    Sick people with sick Republican ideas. Newt and Sarah Palin prey on the feeble minded and this is what we get. No wonder the country hates Republicans.

    August 11, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  15. Christian

    Sounds like good old PA (my former state of residence) is not as liberal as the media would lead you to believe – although those of us who have lived there know this very well.
    The fact is Arlen was elected as a Republican, and regardless of political affiliation, the people of this country largely seek fiscally (and many times socially) conservative politicians, whether they know how to define this or not. Its not about D or R – its about where your tax dollars are going.

    August 11, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  16. David H, Medical Doctor

    Hey Arlen, re: "the vicious rumor" about writing off the elderly. I know you haven't bothered to read the bill, after all, you are a very busy man and above such trivial pursuits. So let me assist you (free of charge) It's on Page 427: Government mandates program that orders end-of-life treatment. Government dictates how your life ends.

    Now that that is settled. You sir, are toast, probably in more ways than one.

    Signed: an un-American, mobster, who currently works full time as in Physician practicing Internal Medicine in Georgia.


    August 11, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  17. minnie

    I am so glad the people are waking up to take our country back from a government that does not think we the people are important.
    All they want to do is spend our money. That has got to stop.

    August 11, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  18. Howard

    This is why Obama was rushing to get the Healthcare reform passed before Congress went on their summer break, he knew that Senators & Congressmen/women would go home and get an earful from their constituents who do NOT want this to pass and are tired of the government giving away their tax money. While I personally supported the TARP funding, Obama and Congress did the same thing, slam it through before the public could have any idea about what they were doing.

    August 11, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  19. Mr. Moderate

    The opponents continue to say that dissent is American. Yes it is, but this juvenile disruptive behavior is not dissent. Act like adults, think for yourselves and stop parroting RNC/Rush/Beck talking points. Ask challenging questions, but what do you gain by disrupting the meeting, calling people Nazis, spouting untruths?

    And that goes for the left too.

    The founding fathers would be embarrased by this.

    August 11, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  20. Paul

    I wonder if these radical right-wing loonies actually know that they're just pawns of the insurance industry.

    August 11, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  21. Reformed Republican


    Stop listening to Rushblo, Bill-O, Palin, Beck and rethuglicans about "death panels" for old geezers, free sex change operations and abortions on demand – IT'S ALL LIES!

    Do yourself a favor grandpa and grandma – wait until there is a final bill under consideration to ask questions about or make intelligent comments on. There isn't one yet so hold your water or wear your depends until there is one.

    In the meantime turn off your radio and the ClusterFOX News – You'll live longer and get better health care reform if you do...

    August 11, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  22. Lisa

    It's unfortunate that some of these people do not take the time to educate themselves on the real issues so that they can make an intelligent, informed argument at these town hall meetings. If you unable to have a civil debate based on facts rather than the hysteria generated by some in the media, you do not have the emotional intelligence to help shape policy for anyone, including yourself.

    August 11, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  23. brian

    I had hoped that the bad old days of the Bush administration were over, sadly they continue in all their "gory"! Re-distributing wealth, pushing through a socialist agenda, and accusing those opposed to Obama healthcare overhaul as "Unamerican". Come on Dems, don't you remember that mantra when you protested the wars?? Oh, yeah, speaking of the wars, were'nt you all opposed to them during the bad old Bush years?? Hypocrisy at it's finest!!

    August 11, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  24. Billy J Texas

    If we don't give the insurance companies some serious competition from the government, then what is the point. The fat cats have won again, just like the wall street bailout. We might as well lay down and wait for the wall street and insurance execs to suck our country dry and then move to some place nice, like Europe or the Bahamas, to retire, while we enjoy our new third world status. I guess we deserve it, kind of, for our willful ignorance. Arrrrghhhh!

    August 11, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  25. Bob Sessler

    Medicare & Medicade are bankrupt, the government is bankrupt, social security is going bankrupt, the economy is in the tank, the post office is also bankrupt and this new healthcare bill is projected to be bankrupt and result in undoubtley more taxes as all other government programs do. So why would we vote for the government to run another bankrupt program. This is financial disaster!!! Then Congress wants to purchase new private jets!!! Wow "What a joke!!!"

    August 11, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
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