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. tochi

    This was more of a "beer hall" rather than a "town hall" meeting ..

    August 11, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  2. Ann Meschnark

    I am 64 yearsold and my husband is going to retire in November of this year he will be on medicare since he is 65 ,however, I am searching for an affordable insurance policy for myself until I reach 65. This has been a real nightmare!

    I think these insurance companies and hospitals need an extensive overhaul,

    I have great faith that Obama will turn this around

    August 11, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  3. Tennessee Libertarian

    Specter is another one of many reasons why we in America are headed for a revolt somewhere down the road, as Thomas Jefferson said in the Declaration....." That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government...."

    August 11, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  4. CR

    The staged disruptions are a turn-off to reasonable people. If the Republicans keep it up they will soon cease to be a national party.

    August 11, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  5. rich

    People need to start talking about their experiences with insurance companies. They need to talk about how the insurance companies have denied their claims based on pre-existing conditions. They need to talk about how they are going bankrupt because they got sick. I also find it interesting how people are easily scared by rich people. Why do you think rich people and insurance companies are fighting so hard to stop health care reform. It is because of the size of profits they are making from health insurance. Don’t take my word for it look up the profits from health insurance providers. Educate yourself! Don't believe all the scare tactics. I used to work at an insurance company and trust me they have people dedicated to looking through medical records to deny claims based on pre-existing conditions. If people would like information about what everything means in their health policy they can call a health insurance advocate. I encourage people to call an advocate and then tell me if you are one illness away from bankruptcy.

    August 11, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  6. nurse

    Why is congress exempt ?

    August 11, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  7. Jo Thomson

    I watched Sen. Specter's town hall meeting in Lebanon, PA for most of this morning (8/11/09) hoping to get some information about the health care proposal in Congress. Instead, I heard rants against the current administration that would have better suited the previous one. Those people didn't want information about health care reform...they simply wanted to rail against a Democratic administration. Shame on CNN for emphasizing the confrontational nature of these meetings and not reporting the fact that attendees are no more interested in discussing health care than the cost of apples in Toronto.

    August 11, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  8. pa. independent

    That seemed more of a push, not a shove, but even so, the guy that pushed should have been decked! He had no right laying a hand on anyone.
    I watched some of this on TV and thought it was overall pretty civil. It is amazing how misinformed so many people are though. I think so many want to believe certain things, just to oppose, and don't care about the truth. Most of these people are on gov't SS and medicare, but that's ok with them.

    August 11, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  9. RR Florida

    The town meeting was controlled and not out of hand. If the Senator had addressed the issues, it would have been a better meeting, but instead, he played the politician and talked around the people...that's
    what upset a lot of people....."WE THE PEOPLE" are sick of being
    talked "DOWN TO" and that is what happened.
    "WE THE PEOPLE" are taking our country back!
    And the Media had better listen, WE ARE SICK OF YOUR ONESIDED

    August 11, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  10. Adrian

    It just goes to show that a good portion of American's in general are ignorant to how flawed there current health care system is in comparison to other countries, America's current health care system is comparable to most third world countries and no better...those of you who think it isn't start doing some research and you will clearly see the truth.

    August 11, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  11. Fire Specter

    These people voted for one thing, Specter got into office and changed his party. He is a public servant, and he portrayed himself as something and changed after being voted in. He can in no way help this bill the people are already disgruntled with him and any thing he will support they will oppose. Would it be legal for someone to get voted into the presidency as a Dem or Rep and then change to the communist party? He should be impeached, and run again in 2010 as a Dem.

    August 11, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  12. bozo the obama

    we do not need health care reform, we need to reform this radical government starting with the clown-in-chief

    August 11, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  13. Pierre Dupond

    This people don't understand what they are doing! They should understand that the government has the obligation to protect all Americans by the Constitution. How does the government can protect citizens when it does not provide them a good health care? Protection does have to be understood in matter of war as republican think or like. The Health Care is a Right to all Citizens not a privilege. Do these violent people against health care think about all those million of citizen without health care and who are serving the country in one way or the other?
    The Interest group and Republicans should stop the nasty practice and allow the democracy to work.

    August 11, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  14. nurse

    Why do they need to access my bank acount for electronic tranfer ????

    Sec 163 pgs 58-59

    August 11, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  15. Joe in StL

    Veterans Administration (VA)

    These are all government insurance programs that help thousands of Americans, but which were also opposed by Republicans. They only passed because Democrats were supported by the people to pass them.

    The public OPTION

    August 11, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |

    What an Embaressement these Right wing Lunaticts are,They are Dangerous violent people. I just hope Some Innocent By stander who goes to these Town Halls to try and Debate normally and calmly and rationally doesnt get hurt by these right wing nut jobs!

    August 11, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  17. Donna from Colorado Springs

    The idiots are at it again this morning, I see! The Republicans are stubborn......I'll give them that much, but this will all backfire on them as their lies and protests did last November. Some people never learn!

    August 11, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  18. Bob of Lompoc

    What next ? A repeat of pre World War II Germany – Republican thugs roaming the streets, beating people suspected of being "liberals". None of this surprises me. The Republicans have lost their collective minds. Bad losers exhibiting bad behavior. Think about it: Why would a person feel violent because someone else (about 47 million persons) is going to receive health care ? These Republicans really hate Obama and the Democrats. They don't care about health care. When this passes, there will be an other issue they will violently oppose. They will, however, slowly slip into history, and never be heard from again. What a shame. Logical Republicans sit on the sidelines, and allow these hooligans to ruin the reputation of "The Party Of Lincoln". What a cowardly, disgusting disgrace.

    August 11, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  19. Jose Awesome

    THIS is what the GOP has become. Why would anyone, especially minorities, want to associate themselves with these people?

    August 11, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  20. They call me "Tater Salad"

    What's sad about this is that people are stupid enough to be led into fighting against their own best interest! Like I've said before, I live in a world surrounded by IDIOTS!

    August 11, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  21. Pat-Pittsburgh

    Freedom of speech is where you hand out cards so that only the persons with the cards are allowed to speak or ask questions. WOW, what is America becoming.

    August 11, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  22. teacher

    I think these town hall meetings should continue but some restrictions must apply. Why not require those in attendance to show their voter registration card that includes the voting districts where the town hall meeting is being conducted. That way lobyist employees from Texas cannot disrupt a meeting in Ohio, etc.

    August 11, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  23. Sniffit

    ""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?" "

    Abject silliness. If you think the words "systematic dismantling of this country" weren't engraved on this woman's pitiful excuse for a brain by some lobbyist and all the nonsensical rhetoric spewing from the GOP, Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity and the rest of the purposeful misinformers out there, then you're probably her intellectual equal....and I pity you for it.

    August 11, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  24. Ken

    I just don't understand the opposition! Health care premiums are strangling small businesses. They go up 20 to 30% every year. Something has to be done or many small business will not be able to provide health care to their employees. Health care needs to be non- profit. The CEO of United health Care has $750,000,000 dollars in stock options and an 11 million dollar salary, and that is only one company. Just think how premiums would go down and how many uninsured could have coverage with that money.
    The conservatives are putting so much misinformation out there and it seems like their followers don't take the time to educate themselves. Do conservatives really want to oppose this like they did Medicare, Social Security and Equal Rights?

    August 11, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  25. CantTrustSpecter

    Oh and one last thing to note after watching the video. That guy who started manhandling that old man should have received a knuckle sandwich from SOMEONE. You don't put your hands on an elder and shove them around like that. That man could be a vet that paid for our now diminishing freedoms with his blood. Now that he is older and weaker some bald jerk wants to physically accost him? For SHAME.

    Well, after a party switch like that Specter certainly won't be getting re-elected. I say the old man should run!

    August 11, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
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