August 11th, 2009
12:27 PM ET
5 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. Mike in MN

    I watched the first half of this on TV before I had to go to work, first 15 questions. Fourteen of the first fifteen questions were from people against the current bills. There were some who were angry, there were moments of cheering and boos. But while I was watching Specter was not shouted down or insulted. The loudest response was when one of the questioners followed up his health reform questions with a suggestion that Specter go back to Washington and submit a bill on term limits for members of Congress, this got a standing ovation.
    During the first half there were moments when common ground was found between Specter and the questioners and crowd. It was apparent that the crowd was for some level of change but not what Congress and Obama is currently proposing.

    August 11, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  2. Marilyn.

    Let the American's vote to decide after they read the changes, if enough vote for the health change you will win without all this going's on and it will be a honest vote.

    August 11, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  3. LisA

    people are mad and they do have a right. they should calm down and listen. the best thing is washington is learning as well. read the bill, they where just going to sign away b/4 august vacation. i think they will know better in the future. all talk and no action is over for them. do the research , Pres. Obama could not tell us what was in the bill. I hope he has learned from this as well.

    August 11, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  4. Harry A Haney

    Anyone disrupting these meetings should be escorted out by police. They are stopping intelligent debate and not allowing others to ask the questions that need to be answered.

    August 11, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  5. Gary from Hunt Valley, Md.

    The Fear Police are having a field day now. We just went through 8 years of the most effective Boogeyman Politics in a generation of such costly games, mostly in the cynical, exploitative wake of 9-11. Boo!! (while the powers shred the Constitution) Boo!! (while they line the pockets of corporate cronies from Bank of America to Halliburton and give the Mike Browns of the world jobs they have no business having) Boo!! (while they enact a massive prescription drug care bill that can't be paid for and lines the pockets of drug/insurance industry) Boo!! (while we illegally invade a nation while slashing taxes of the richest and ask no sacrifice of ordinary Americans) Boo!! (while leaders take us further into financial and moral bankruptcy)...And now, we get to watch people scream AHHHHH!! SOCIALISM!! regarding health care/insurance reform, most of whom are collecting or will soon need Social Security and Medicare. The absurdity, hypocrisy and hysteria of this so-called discourse says much about this bloated, obese, decaying place we call our country.

    August 11, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  6. PLEASE, NO more republicans ruining this country!

    Um, yeah people shouting, screaming and over talking the speaker instead of listening and having a civilized conversation is a really great strategy and very mature......

    August 11, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  7. Judy

    I listened to 1 through 20 questions Sen. Specter was asked and no one was disruptive. CNN needs to stop being one-sided also, as they are accusing the other side of doing. And ... most of them indicated they were not there because of any organization. Can the dems say that about the "SEIU" and ACCORN people? I beg to differ.

    August 11, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  8. Chuck

    Yes, yes and yes........these are obiously paid town hall meeting combatants who don't give a hoot about democracy. What has happened to us that we no longer care about helping those in need? Has the community spiril completety vanished whereby GREED has become our way of life? Never in the last 10 years have the rich sought to get richer by obtaining outrageous salaries, price gouging at all cost, getting golden parachutes for incompetence, etc. etc.

    August 11, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  9. Tom

    People are getting angry at their government because they are only told half-truths by the President and their experience and common sense fills in the rest. Having paid ever increasing taxes for the last 35 years and being told it is my "fair share" I am rewarded with the government hand going deeper into my pocket every year. This health care nonsense is just a cost transfer mechanism to the "earners" in this country, which gets votes for the Demos from their constituents. However, the "earners" are running out of money. Perhaps the government should "fix" the cost side first before turing the pay side into a government run program.

    August 11, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  10. Now Indepentent

    As a republican (recently), who still opposes this bill, in it's present form, these inbreds at these meetings are embarrassing.

    So while I may oppose this bill, I absolutely refuse to vote for another Republican until they can muster the leadership, if they have any, and put an end to such moronic, retarded, juvenile and treasonist behavior. To let these retards continue to act in this assenine way is beyond deplorable.

    You can disagree, and you can have your questions. But chanting and shouting down others with 'chants', is moronic and childish. These people need to be euthanized for certain!

    Independant until the GOP and it's constituents start acting like grown adults. No more republicans until one with some leadership can step forward.

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

    When you see complete idiots acting so juvenile it makes me want to support abortion rights even more.

    August 11, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  12. Barbara

    This is another example of Republicans "discussing "Healthcare Reform. They can't discuss this or any other issue in a civil manner for they have no plan or ideas of their own. Kind of like McCain/Palin going around the country screaming innuendos instead of talking about all the very many problems and concerns confronting Americans.

    August 11, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  13. Paul from NYC

    These mobs of willfully ignorant people make me sad for my country.

    August 11, 2009 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  14. William Bray

    I work at a Veteran's hospital. When people pay nothing for their health care they become very abuse and wasteful to the system. I served in the Army for 20 years with the promise of free health care for the rest of my life (if I survived). So I stayed in the Army while my friends got higher paying jobs. Now, my friends will be getting the same health care I sacrificed myself to get. It is not fair. Also, when politicians say there are 50 million uninsured Americans in the US, they are not including the 15 million illegal aliens. Also, when we offer free care for those who make it here, it will be a magnet for all in the world. Nobody discussses this. My congressman is supposed to being looking out for my interests not for illegal aliens.

    August 11, 2009 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  15. tess c

    You left out the man, who brought to Spector's attention, that the bill requires that the government keep all records on all citizens to be held by the attorney general for police purposes. The man then rightly asked, paraphrased, "how will you police all the bureaucrats that will have all that information on us." Spector then twisted in the wind.

    August 11, 2009 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  16. Dan

    Why do these people allow themselves to be tools of the rich right wingers that want to keep the status quo? Tell these older people, that are concerned with the government to give back their social security and not take medicare benefits.

    August 11, 2009 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  17. Craig

    This is going to be a mess. I realize that you can't compate countries but Canada has had for who know how long and my coworker (from Canada) says it's a mess and it drives up the cost of everything. Our "leaders" our kidding themselves if they think this is a good thing. Honestly I don't see or here about people dying all the time from not having access to health care.

    August 11, 2009 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  18. Robert

    Notice the people who are against the health care overhaul are old, white men (mostly). Gee, is it really about health care or is it about the sense of entitlement these old geezers think they have that everything should be for them and nothing for anyone else? Or perhaps its just a way of practicing racism.

    It's time for healthcare overhaul, and I'm tired of old geezers trying to tell the next generation of Americans how things are going to be. It's time they sit down and shut up. We've heard all we want to hear from them.

    August 11, 2009 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  19. Jinny Lee

    These disruptions are being made by ignorant and bullying people who dishonor this nation by their actions......This is supposed to be a discussion.....not a brawl.....Do your brain a favor....Stop listening to Rush Limbaugh, people like him, and big corporation (insurance companies, etc.) who feed you nothing but stupidity, ignorance, and hate.

    August 11, 2009 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  20. PK California

    They've been watching FOX NEWS!!!!! That channel is inciting riots with their twisting and turning of anything that isn't Republican! If the devil himself were calling the shots, they'd praise them. I've heard people rant and rave over stuff that has NO TRUTH to it at all. Some are having fits about things that aren't even being proposed, but have been INFERRED by Fox! This channel is doing the country a great disservice. They should be ashamed of themselves!

    August 11, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  21. kaleto

    So it's OK for MoveOn.org and Code Pink to orchestrate opposition to Republican-backed bills, but not OK for right-wing groups to orchestrate opposition to Democrat-backed bills? Egad, Democrats are such hypocrites!

    Know why the dems are pushing so hard for this to pass now? Because they see the writing on the wall–come 2010 they won't have the filibuster-proof 60 seats in the senate.

    August 11, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  22. Husman

    The only question that resonated with me most in the PA town hall meeting was that of term limits for members of congress and i do think that the likes of Specter who still cling to power despite age and declining health should quit and allow young and vibrant young men drive stear the ship of the nation from the wobbling hands of old cranky men/women.

    August 11, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  23. POEMAN

    Wonder how long it's going to be before one of these frenzied "protestors" whips out a gun and starts shooting?

    Of course the wingnuts on the Right will be shocked at the violence they preach daily.

    August 11, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  24. Margie

    How come all the questions are going to the Republicans? Do the Democrats not get a voice? During the 8 years of Bush , Democrats were screened and never allowed to attend those meetings (and arrested if they tried to get in) now the town hall meetings are again being taken over by Republicans. Yes, there are concerns by all but the bottom line is we have been overtaken by the health insurance company's and something needs to be done by Democrat's and Republican's alike.

    August 11, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  25. Richard

    The best way to handle these paid AH's is to announce before you start that anyone atempting to disrupt or shout will be ejected and the meeting stopped until lthey are removed, When you are paid for something you better do it or you won't get paid.. Republicans have to get used to Obama as presdient. I have no doubts that these protesters will revert to shootings at some point they are nut cakes.

    August 11, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
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