August 9th, 2009
05:05 PM ET
14 years ago

Durbin on town hall chaos - ‘This is clearly being orchestrated’

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Senate’s second-ranking Democrat slammed recent town hall protests Sunday as organized disruptions of the democratic process.

“We have these screaming groups on either side. That isn't helpful. Let's be honest about this. Town meetings are not bean bag, I've had hundreds of them and sometimes folks get upset. And that's part of America, part of our process,” Sen. Dick Durbin told CNN’s John King on “State of the Union.”

“But this is clearly being orchestrated and these folks have instructions. They come down from a Texas lobbyist in Washington..." he said.

"When there are a group of people honestly sitting in the middle trying to ask the important questions and get the right answers, and instead someone takes the microphone and screams and shouts to the point where the meeting comes to an end, that isn't dialogue, that isn't the democratic process. You know, we need to respect free speech, but we need to respect one another's rights to free speech too. When these people come in just to disrupt the meetings, no, that isn't right.”

He also defended the White House’s new effort to track and rebut rumors about the president’s health care plan, following Republican criticism that the move was intended to intimidate opponents.

“What I can tell you is that the White House is not trying to collect names of any Americans. What they're trying to do is post on some of these Web sites a rebuttal to some bad information,” pointing to inaccurate rumor provisions in the proposal might be used to fund abortions, cover undocumented immigrants, or raid Medicare funds. “There's so much bad information out there, you can understand the effort to at least let people hear both sides of the story,” said Durbin.

On Fox News Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the charge that the rowdy town hall disruptions were being organized, and ripped Democrats for alleging that critics were receiving instructions from outside parties.

"Well, look. I think attacking citizens in our country for expressing their opinions about an issue of this magnitude may indicate some weakness in their position on the merits," he said. "And I also think it's particularly absurd for the Democrats, who have over an $8 million e-mail list over at the DNC called Organize America, to be criticizing citizens for being organized.

"Frankly, the truth of the matter is we don't know who's organized and who isn't. The point is the issue, the substance. They need to deal with it. Americans are concerned about it. "

Both Durbin and Republican Sen. John Cornyn signaled the precarious status of any “public option” in the final version of any health care legislation, with Cornyn calling the idea a deal-breaker Durbin repeating a reluctant willingness to sacrifice the idea to assure passage of a final bill. The idea is not considered likely to be included in the final Senate version of the bill, although a modified public option remains in the House version of the legislation.

Cornyn did say one possible administration proposal might have GOP support: An extension of unemployment benefits.

“I think we need to take a close look at that. We don't want to provide a disincentive to work, but where people are out of work and they need - need some help, sure. We're - we're open to that,” he said.

Filed under: Dick Durbin • Extra • John Cornyn • State of the Union
soundoff (141 Responses)
  1. Follow the money

    People are so worried about Socialism when they should be worried about Corporate Fascism.Google it and see what I mean.They will stop at nothing to keep the billions they have,including poor shills and a standing Foreign Army,like Blackwater to protect their money.

    August 9, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  2. Pat - Boston

    Finally, someone says what is fundamentally true: "We don't care who disrupts this meetings, both sides are doing it and it is counterproductive!" In the end, we don't even know if the people want or not the reform because there is too much noise, and the citizens don't get their answer.

    August 9, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  3. NORA L.

    Tell obama to have a town meeting with the real people not the ones he hand picks.Keep the government out of my health care.It's not about partys any more it about the constitution and our freedom.

    August 9, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  4. jimbo

    Will 18E, is that your age? Exactly who do YOU call when you need the police or fire department, Obama? This is not orchestrated, it is legitimate folks fed up with Congress knowing whats best for us. And if anyone noticed, they did not get violent until the union thugs ( bet they voted Democrat, oh wait, felons can't vote yet) came out

    August 9, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  5. CNN =

    I really don't care if it is organized or not, as long as people are speaking out. Obama "organized" his followers during the campaign, so I really don't see the difference here. Apparently it is okay for Obama to organize efforts to get something done, but not okay for conservatives to organize to get their agenda done. Obama likes to dish it out, but can't take it when it comes back at him, using the same techniques used by him. I encourage many more people to get organized against this President!

    August 9, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  6. Keith in Austin

    To Lois and Ray:

    Your verbal attacks on Conservatism is comical! The American People are voicing their Freedom of Speech and Liberal zealots like you call it hate mongering. Why is it when anyone opposes King Obama, the Dems are first to call it Anti-American? Healthcare Reform CAN occur without a government take over. Insurance accessibility beyond Individual States, portability,tort reform are three changes that would save millions. I for one don't want liberal bureaucrats crats controling my life any more than they currently are. If you like socialism so much, move to Cuba!

    August 9, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  7. rosemary

    Unless you don't have insurance, you need to let the one without have there say. Older people won't be around much but need this kind of help. Person with money, insurance don't know and don't have a clue need to stay out of it. Sorry

    August 9, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  8. Ben in NM

    Orchestrated or not, in a way I love watching the right-wing circus at these town hall meetings when they hit TV. The Republicans lost in November, and they're still throwing a collective hissy fit every chance they get. All they can do is continue to tarnish their party's image by carrying on like two-year-olds who lost their pacifier. Very entertaining! Keep it up, please!!!

    August 9, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  9. gary davis Harbor Oregon

    bullying is not free speech . and law inforcement should be used to stop this republican crap.everyone of these people should be arrested
    then give them a pass if they tell who it was that hired them to disrupt the town hall meeting .
    people are typically selfish and will turn on the onse that want to disrupt the town hall meetings .so I believe the law inforcement would find out who is behind all of this crap . or we would see how high up it goes the republican party liers

    August 9, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  10. mickey

    Corporate fascism is and should be a worry.
    But we shouldn't substitute one dictatorship, or at least overall dominatorship for another.

    Like good ol' Che was wholly willing to substitute evil colonialism with totalitarian dictatorships which were just fine with him because they were Socialist and Communist, even though they, and he, killed many more people and left all in misery.

    We cannot substitute one evil force for another.

    August 9, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  11. dsmith

    It's no secret where these 'protests' are being organised from. 'Hate Radio' is saturated with calls for the lunitic fringe to disrupt local Town Hall meetings, with Republican politicians egging them on. Naitonal Republican organisations always follow the money, and in this case the big money is the Insurance industry.

    August 9, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  12. CNN =

    babs from Denver

    You are getting a taste of your own medicine used by your side over the last eight years. Funny how now you don't think it is right, You are very hypocritical! Then again, you are a Democrat, so what else should I expect.

    August 9, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  13. KLK

    Now I know why they call then ReTHUGlicans. Very fitting.

    August 9, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  14. jerjets

    all i can say is MOVEON.ORG, its ok for them, but not for others

    August 9, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  15. Mike

    This is definitely orchestrated. I can't understand how people can say it isn't when you can read the How-To documents from lobby groups (insurance companies paying them) yourself.
    I think this mess is a shame. We need positive discourse at times like this and now BOTH sides are preventing that from happening.
    Health Care needs reformed. I a majority of voters believe this. Find me one "insured" person that did not get misinformed or have a dispute with their health care carrier. If I walked around my neighborhood and asked, I will find more uninsured people than insured. Now we need to figure out how this reform should happen; what is the country's comfort zone. Screaming at town hall meetings certainly isn't the way to do this.
    Its time to grow up America and work together to make a common goal.

    August 9, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  16. HealthcareforAll

    Obviously there is an attempt to stir up the population...why else would rational human beings act like this? We are acting like protesters in a third world country rather than viewing this opportunity to have an educated discourse about a broken system. While the 1st Amendment protects the freedom of speech and the right to advocate violence, it does NOT allow an individual to INCITE VIOLENCE. Some of the commentators and politicians and lobbyists and GOP representatives who are verbalizing on the airways and the net and attempting to incite followers to violent, disruptive behavior at town hall meetings may find themselves in a court of law when someone is hurt in an open forum designed to fix our healthcare problem.

    August 9, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  17. ron

    The Republican HAVES are suddenly becoming the HAVE NOTS and they are getting nervous. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we will pass health care reform this year. Newt Gingrich today just ruined his 2012 Presidential hopes by agreeing with Palin.

    August 9, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  18. Wait and See, Syr.

    Let the people raise their concerns and ask their questions. That's the point of town hall meetings. The only way to combat ignorance and misinformation and calm people's fears is to listen to the voters and give them the explanations they desperately want.

    So let the Representatives talk. You're missing the point and making a bad situation worse when all you do is yell.

    Listen–then make up your minds–that's the way a democracy works!

    August 9, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  19. Brian

    Dems keep on saying it is being ochestrated. Normal everyday people are coming to town halls to voice their opion, which they feel has been ingnored. I think they are just very angry and upset. If you have been feeling ingnored for the last 9 years, even with Bush, I think your starting to get upset.
    Conservatives believe they have good ideas. We are not republicans or Dems. We are conservatives! We are not crazy, we just want to live our lives and go for the american dream. We are proud and we don't like it when the government or anyone else wastes our money and starts telling us what is right and wrong.
    We don't want another Government program. We have to many and its a waste. Why does the Government have to do something that the State and private companies can do? Its cheap and as a private citizen we can choose where we want our money to go.

    August 9, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  20. CNN =

    gary davis Harbor Oregon

    "people are typically selfish"

    You, being a Democrat, fit this description perfectly. Again, you rant and rave, as well as protest loudly, over the last eight years against Bush, but now you can't take it when it happens to your guy. Another typical Democrat hypocrite! If you want people arrested, start with Code Pink, and the people. They do harm to this country everyday.

    August 9, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  21. KLK

    Because they're southerners Seth. Southerners don't know any better. You see how low they rank in education.

    August 9, 2009 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  22. russ md.

    The senater speeks of 'democratic process". Maybe he should listen to the overwellming majority and say no to this bill.

    August 9, 2009 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  23. Ronald Clowney

    If the American people that don't want health reform are in the majority, why can't they wait and take it to the ballot box in 2010 and 2012? The answer, because those who oppose health reform are not in the majority. Those who oppose are turning out in hopes to create the illusion that they are in the majority. When all is said and done, the bill will pass with a public option and the opposition will lose again. They have been wrong about their principles on the constitution and freedom since Ronald Reagan was president. They will continue to be proven wrong no matter how loud and disruptive they get.

    August 9, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  24. the dude

    After I left my old job to start my own business, my family was denied health insurance by every private insurer in the state of Wisconsin, even though we were all in great health, have money to pay, and have had health insurance all our lives.

    Why? My wife was pregnant. That's our current system. In any other field, housing or jobs or public accomodations of any sort, discrimination against a pregnant woman would not be tolerated in the US. We let the health insurance companies get away with it though.

    The Obama administration is trying to fix many broken things left behind by the Republicans, who managed to totally trash our country after 8 years of prosperity under the Clinton administration. This is like trying to fix an airplane while it is flying.

    The vandals and self-righteous jerks who are disrupting good faith efforts to reform health care in this country are the enemies of the people suffering under the current system. They are hurting families like mine, and they should be ashamed of themselves.

    My family had a happy ending. We were able to maintain our insurance via COBRA, and would have been able to obtain coverage of last resort via the High Risk Pool made available in Wisconsin by our state government. Yes, if not for these government programs, my little baby would not have been covered by health insurance.

    Think about that the next time you disrupt a town hall meeting.

    August 9, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  25. Mickey in Oregon

    The humorous thing ALWAYS is that the Democrats/Liberals are incapable of reasonable discussion, expressing ideas, governing and whenever they don't get their way all they can think to do is to name call.

    Health Care Reform should be important enough to spend YEARS to craft, working hard to get it right and to get it to work but instead we have the usual congress/D.C. rush to meet the evening news, our elected Congress folk saying that they don't and won't have the time or inclination to read the bill, just as they refused to do with the Stimulus Pkg which stimulated nothing, offered nothing and has done nothing for the economy and provided jobs ONLY for manual laborers but ignored the vast majority of the unemployed. Our elected officials don't care enough to do the right thing. They are bribers (pork and favors) and acceptors of bribes – anything to stay in office.

    August 9, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
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