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. Anonymous

    I watched this town hall meeting. You forget that many of the people that spoke identified themselves as being invited, being non-partisan, and being concerned Americans. The majority of the town hall conversation was tense and civil.

    I encourage people to stop listening to the spin and watch these meetings for yourselves. These are real Americans from a wide spectrum of political beliefs

    (because this country is not Red or Blue as the media would have you believe, it is politically DIVERSE).

    Watch, Read, Inform Yourselves. Wake up.

    August 11, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  2. Jeff

    Looks like the crazies are out in full force. They can't call Obama what they would like to as racial slurs are so taboo these days, so they resort to nonsense like "socialism" or "I want my country back" slogans. What do you think social security and medicare are???? I didn't see too many protesting Bush when he added billions to medicare! Where was the outrage then??? Get a life, racists.

    August 11, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  3. Nathan,

    All of those conservative Republicans who claim they want the country to be what its founding fathers didn't worry about the country changing when that incompetent Bush and the criminal Cheney were stomping on the constitution. This wanting their country back is about more than just policy. We've had policy changes when power changed hands throughout history. This is about the country looking different and the leaders being different. The constitution means nothing to these hooligans. Americans mean nothing to these hooligans. They could care less if the family down the street could not afford healthcare. These people are worried that the change in the country will mena the change in the pecking order of who the governemnt is going to take care of. What these morons don't realize is that the previous governement wasn't looking out for their interest. All this nonsense about marxism, and socialism. I would bet most of these people shouting these words don't even know what they mean or what the difference is.

    August 11, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  4. laurie

    This is all about willful ignorance. People who don't take the time to find out the facts for themselves and instead follow the lead of those distributing innuendo and blatant lies. It's clear when someone says that they don't an this country "turning into Russia," that they are simply not informed on the matter other than swallowing misinformation. It's clear they know nothing about the health care reform and what it's function will be. If they are so concerned about it, why not take the time to investigate and find out for themselves what this health care reform really is about and that you DON'T HAVE TO CHANGE YOUR INSURANCE if you don't want to? They don't do it because they are lazy, ignorant and naive. It's simply easier to believe what they hear Glenn Beck say on TV than to actually get up and read a newspaper. Ridiculous. This country is too stupid for its own good. People are too lazy to form their own opinions. Pathetic.

    August 11, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  5. IQ test for all voters

    Lobbyists and Special Interest groups hard at work!!!

    August 11, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  6. Dr. Otter

    There would have been just as many protesters in favor of health care reform if its proponents were also willing to hire them. This reminds me of how dictatorial regimes quash dissent–by sending in hoards of sock-puppets parroting their repressive line.

    Single-payer now!

    Otter, MD MPH

    August 11, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  7. Mich

    Mr. Specter
    The general welfare in the constitution has nothing to do with health care. And your Social Contract also means you should protect the United States from Policies that are bad for the country.

    August 11, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  8. HSNP

    Republicans are stupid.

    August 11, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  9. yuri

    Rowdy elements, based on reports, most readily are reared and raised by the Repubs on a fairly regular basis during these riotous and rambunctious town hall meetings. Thase kinds of remarks can only ignite rage and ire against the garrulous but goofy GOP.

    August 11, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  10. Bob in Pa

    I will admit that I don't know the deatils but I thought we had coverage for all already in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
    Medicaid for people who can not afford Health Care coverage. If you can afford it and don't choose to carry Health Insurance, that's your problem, not ours.

    August 11, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  11. Julia davenport

    This was a long and heated discussion this morning on CNN and i don't understand why you posted a video that tells nothing of the discussion against senator Specter. Many of the town hall people were upset with the senator and brought up major issues, such as health care and the government getting into our bank accounts. why don't you show a video of some of the town people's opinions about this health care issue and the senators answers to them. this video shows nothing of the issues being dealt with. Americans are not happy about this health care reform and no is listening to the Americans anymore... We need Ron Paul!

    August 11, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  12. nate

    That wasn't much of a shove. Big letdown CNN. I was ready for some "Don't Taze Me Bro" action and all I got was this....

    August 11, 2009 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  13. David

    What has happened to civil discourse in this country?

    Yelling, screaming, and stomping your feet is not dialog. It is childish and counterproductive. What kind of example are these people setting?

    At the very least educate YOURSELF prior to stepping up to the mic. Screaming that Obama is a 'scary guy' does nothing.

    Round out your sources.

    Here is some news for the new 'birthers' out there...

    The Glenn Beck's of the world do not represent mainstream America and yelling the loudest does not make you right.

    Let us not forget...we are all Americans.

    August 11, 2009 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  14. JasonTN

    These so called conservatives that are going to these town hall meetings and disrupting should be disgraced. Sit down and have a civil conversation. Not everything revolves around you. When others disagree with anything the Republicans don't want, they get mad and then they send in their "crazy" people to disrupt civil meetings. Totally un-American and you should be ashamed. The Republicans lost, so now they are trying to get their people fired up, how pathetic.

    August 11, 2009 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  15. Thank You President Obama!

    These rethuglicans sound just like they came from listening to lush limpaugh (the drug addict) and went straight to the meeting. Their talking points are identical to rush. BTW ladie, um we just survived a dictatorship under gwb, nothing could be worse than that.

    August 11, 2009 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  16. Jared

    Geepers...Obama's plan for a public insurance option is going to turn the US of A into Russia??? Just how ignorant and uneducated are these people??!?!? The level of public ignorance on this issue is incredibility embarrassing considering Russian-like people living in Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Great Britain, Sweden, etc. are watching it. And guess what, in those Russia-like countries, Obama's plan would STILL be considered too right wing to work. The HMO lobby must be bribing....err...donating a LOT of money to "conservatives" this year. This whole health care debate is a JOKE. Americans should be ashamed of how corrupt their government has become and how feeble the mainstream media is in exposing it.

    August 11, 2009 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  17. chad

    I dont understand this article..."specter face angry crowd at town hall meeting"....i watched the whole meeting, for 5 minutes was the one guy a commotion, thats it!! you're whole article points out these 5 minutes, the rest of the 85 minutes was good debate and the media continues to love to sway peoples thinking!

    August 11, 2009 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  18. Melissa

    I'm so tired of this behavior. I can't believe how gullible the Republicans are. Its time to grow up people. And its time for gvt officials to inform people at the beginning of these meetings that they will be thrown out of they are disruptive. No more.

    August 11, 2009 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  19. Maria - Proud Democrat

    Actually I watched the town hall meeting LIVE and it wasn't really that bad.

    I was really impressed at how well informed all these people are about some of the items on the bill.....they even cited the House Bill numbers.....they were prepared and knew what they were talking about. Of the 30 people that talked....29 were against and 1 was for the current Health care plan.

    There were a couple of times where Sen. Specter appeared unfamiliar with the House Bill information.

    However, Sen. Specter did an EXCELLENT job of dealing with the question and answers.

    Good meeting overall. I learned there were some items that most certainly need to be removed or reworded, while other bills were okay. I learned that the White House needs to come up with some realistic numbers.

    And I learned that some portions of the bill are OK.

    Great town hall....

    August 11, 2009 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  20. Don't sweat the small stuff.

    I have been watching some of these meeting. These angry people are definately Repulicans or people who has an hatred for Mr.Obama. Normal citizens who have genuine concerns about Healthcare Reforms and want to learn more about the plan. Would go
    to these meeting and ask question and listen to each other and get some answers. It is really shame to see the anger and ingnorant confrontation that are going on. Where is the civilazation of Americans?
    Remember the World is watching. Some of these people looks like real racists, selfish rednecks who don't care about anyone else but themselves. They are so afraid that something is going to be taken away from them. But are so blind with anger and hatred for that they can't even see that if something not done about healthcare they all will lose out. I agree that we all need to know what is in the bill. But listen and learn. Going go to these meeting with an Agenda to try and defeat the bill because you want to try and Hurt the Obama Goverment is seflish..

    August 11, 2009 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  21. Ezekial

    Hey Dems if you want it you can pass this PIG there is no need for Republican support. Keep deamonizing those of us with different views and being tone deaf to our concerns and it will get worse. Give us some name calling and ugliness we have been hearing as it is a great lubricant to Obama's sliding popularity.

    August 11, 2009 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  22. PAUL

    It is too bad we can not have a civilized town meeting as these subhuman goons hired by the Republican backed Pharmaceutical and medical industry and led for what I understand is a low life Texas Lobbyst have been traitors to our form of free, nonviolent debate. If this is going to happen this country will be ruled by the mob and we will look more like revolutionary France than the United States of America.

    August 11, 2009 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  23. Living in the USA

    Why is it that folks want the government out of things but as soon as things go bad they go to the governement and then complain why didn't the government do something about it. We can't have it both ways. Why is it that the people who are doing all of the ruskus have insurance. Are they acting militant?

    August 11, 2009 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  24. Becca

    I believe in the Constitution and it's provisions that we ALL are given certain rights that can not/should not be taken away/ or only given to the wealthy. I believe that health insurance is one of these rights that we all should have regardless of wealth, race, age, or religion. I also believe in the Bible and that God/Christ called for us to be the care takers of all people even to the point of laying down our lives and this debate is showing the hypocrisy of some believers, they believe in certain parts of the bible and forget other parts. I call all of us to remember that the founders called this nation to be Christ like in the way that we should welcome, love, and not judge (God has that job) anyone! We need to remember the Greatest Commandments from Christ's mouth....Love GOD and Love your neighbor (which in definition is anyone believer and not)!

    August 11, 2009 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  25. PJ

    What will it take for Congress to recognize that this anger is coming from REAL Americans? All the polls I can find indicate that the majority of Americans are against this massive health-care reform.
    These politicians had better wake up and either say NO to this massive health care reform or say NO to their reelection. Either way this country will be better off.

    August 11, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
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