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. The Lonely Libertarian of Liverpool NY

    I think the gentleman's reference to Lobbyist contributions to our elected officials has great merit. Why do our elected officials receive such large amounts of money for influence with much of this money coming in from outside the districts the congressional leader is representing and this leads to everyone question as to why this is not a bribe? These contributions minimize the importance of the voters within the district, when some Wall Street corporation, bank, or wealthy person from outside the district can influence the people.

    August 11, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  2. B in Pittsburgh

    Hooray for more uninformed, conservative crazies interrupting town halls, we should be so proud!! What a fine example our nation sets for the rest of the world! Disgusting.

    These people don't even want to be informed, they just want to spout off their hate, stomp their feet and throw temper tantrums like children. They have no clue what they are talking about, they only believe what Rushy and Sarah tell them to believe. They make me sick.

    August 11, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  3. Jose Awesome

    Maybe they saw Arlen Specter standing behind a podium and they thought it was a death panel.

    August 11, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  4. Rob

    Nice how when MoveOn, the unions, or any other lib group sponsors it, it's considered Americans being real Americans. Yet when it is people who are informed, who want to let the people who are SUPPOSED to represent them in Washington, that they think this healthcare sham is wrong and bad for America (and they're right), they're considered a mob, terrorists, nazis, etc. Where was the outrage from the left when people were calling the president a war-mongering facist back when Bush was in office? Oh that's right, the libs feel they can change the rules to suit them whenever they want.

    The libs are showing everyone just what a two-faced disgrace they are.

    August 11, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  5. Sgt. USMC

    The fact that people paint swatztikas and ss lightning bolts, go to town hall meetings and shout outrages claims, try to paint President Obama as evil by comparing him to hitler and try to make us believe that socialism is inevitable lets me know that these people have not been informed. They are being used as pawns to start a fight that they can only lose. Despite the outcome of health care reform, in 2012 we will look back at how the conservatives acted and will continue to act 'stupidly'. The lack of leadership on the right is dividing the country but fortunately the majority has common sense and will re-elect President Obama. The truth is that it's not about health care to them, it's about the right electing a republican in 2012. Good luck buddies. Just make sure Palin is somewhere in the picture so late night can have some great material.

    August 11, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  6. Beth

    Oh right!! We're trying to provide health care for the uninsured, get rid of the pre-existing condition exemptions, make sure the insurance industry doesn't stand between the doctor and patient and make health care plans portable, and that means we're becoming like Russia?!!!! At the risk of sounding elitist, these boistrous town hall intruders have no brains.

    August 11, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  7. Kurtis

    It's the Republican way. Force, intimidate, overpower, shout, scream and if that does not work make up stories and lies to make them fear change.

    August 11, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  8. Ken

    I watched a significant portion of the town hall meeting. It was not as raucous as the writer makes it out to have been. There were actually many good questions, asked in a civil manner, and not everyone identified themselves as Republicans suggest. The writer addressed none of those pointed questions, which suggest anger with the government lies much deeper than just with the folks Pelosi chooses to call un-American. Bottom line: slanted coverage as always. But, after all, this . . . is CNN.

    August 11, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  9. exPat

    I'm willing to bet quite a lot of money that the woman screaming for a "restor[ing] this country back to what our founders created, according to the Constitution" has never read the Constitution.

    Otherwise, I assume she will be happy to forego all of the following benefit which she enjoys (or will enjoy), including:

    – Social Security
    – Medicare / Medicaid
    – the Air Force
    – Miranda Rights
    – Privacy Rights
    – etc etc

    August 11, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  10. James

    These people are radicals. They are JUST LIKE the radicals in Iraq!

    If these people were EDUCATED at all they would KNOW that what they are yelling is far from fact! These people won’t read or educate themselves on the issues instead they listen to people like Rush, Beck and Fox tv who’s facts are far from that, FACT.

    At first I was really upset at all their craziness, however now I think its great! People who are the “Swing Vote” are seeing what the Republican Party is all about. HATE. DICTATORS. NO. HATE and RADICALS!

    August 11, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  11. JJSB

    These Republicans are such hypocrites. Specter is exactly right, these people who are so scared of government, that they need gun rights, allowed the Warrantless wiretaps without a word. Let the government take away our civil rights , but god forbid they try and give us some social services.

    August 11, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  12. howie

    Arlen, it time that you take your retirement and rest the rest of your life. You have served your country well. Time to move on for people with better ideas.

    August 11, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  13. Dennis J.

    Arranged and promoted by Rush Limbaugh and Karl Rove. Republicans are desperate and have recruited complete morons to have at their beck and call. This isn't hard to figure out folks. Be afraid, be very afraid.

    August 11, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  14. D. Tree

    Some people are legitimately angry and scared, because they have been lied to about "euthanasia" and "socialism."

    I hope these scared and angry people learn the real facts, because health insurance reform will probably help most of them and their families!

    August 11, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  15. Darrel from Denver

    Desparate Republican actions solely for Republican political gain as opposed to actions on behalf of Americans in need. It shows where their minds are at, certainly. They care not to act on behalf of their charge for Americans. Rather, they care to act solely on their need to recover power so they can go on screwing normal Americans in favor of their selected constituency outside the ones that elected them.

    Pathetic bunch of Americans, in my opinion. One wonders for whom they are really working.

    August 11, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  16. Bill

    I have to give it to Senator Specter going in to lyons den? However, Senator Spector you will not get many votes in that crowd. Remember you are a Dem now?

    August 11, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  17. jeff

    Just about every other country in the world has a government run healthcare. That is why their companies are more competitive, they do not have to extremely high premiums for their workers. They do not have to pay for the profits of the insurance companies. We are behind the rest of the world in this field. I don't think anyone is trying to make our health care worse; we are just trying to find a way to make sure we have affordable health care in the future. If we keep our current healthcare it will not be affordable for anyone in a few years. Is it expensive, yes, but insurance companies are able to make a profit, so I am sure we can come up with something.

    August 11, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  18. B'ham

    The news media is helping to fuel this spectacle! Instead of presenting us with informed discussion about a major public policy issue, you are handicapping a fistfight. Shame on you. If the mass media would discuss the Healthcare reform initiatives people would be better informed and wouldn't scare so easily. I guess shouting matches make better visuals. FYI: I voted for Obama, I think he is doing a wonderful job, and I am certain we will get healthcare reform within a couple of months. BTW: I also support the public initiative.
    My demographic is white, 62 years old and female. I live in a suburb and I was laid off when I was 55 and had no healthcare at all for five years!

    August 11, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  19. Janey

    Bullies on a playground.

    August 11, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  20. Brendan H., San Antonio, TX

    Did anyone notice that none of the disrupters at these town hall meetings puts forth a more viable solution? They just disrupt and mainly, I'm afraid to say, because they have no thoughts of their own but rather the speaking points of the right-wing pundits who are afraid that a Black man might have an idea that works!

    August 11, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  21. Tony

    Remember when the lefties were the "shrill" loonies, according to right-wing talking heads. Guess that thing about conservatives being polite only applies during a GOP administration.

    August 11, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  22. Suzanne

    I am grateful that this a tiny part of the American population. I'm beginning to think the older population has fallen behind in the technological era. They don't seem to realize that lies can and are told without impunity. They believe the right wing media because they don't understand that is OK for FOX to lie on television and online. We need to have some kind of standard applied to cable news and soon. Health Care Reform is vital to the sustainabilty of our nation and it is a threat to Insurance industry thus the big bucks to foment anger and lies.

    August 11, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  23. william Cox

    Seniors better wake up I can't believe that seniors are not for health care reform if this country doesn't pass some kind of effective health care reform the country will go broke and the medicare benefits that seniors rely on will be no more WAKE UP!

    August 11, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  24. Theresa

    This is absolutely amazing because the truth is I don't really care what is in the bill except to say they are not addressing the issues of why our insurance is so expensive. I don't understand why we have to offer a completely new system that is run by the government instead of fixing the one we already have. Did you hear Obama say that it would take 10 to 15 years to have single-payer. I know, people say that he said this two years ago. Whatever, if you don't think he still feels this way, you are fooling yourself. The bill currently being discussed creates a new system instead of fixing the current system. This is like the government deciding to make its own computers because everyone has the right to a computer. The government will then offer the computers at a cheaper price. Even though the government computers would not be the only on the market, the other companies wouldn't be able to compete. Guess what happens? In just a few years, the other companies go out of business and everyone only buys government computers. Wake up people! Listen to what Obama says instead of his doublespeak.

    August 11, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  25. Ellie

    Anger and hate....all promoted by the GOP.

    August 11, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
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