Democrats, Republicans Dispute Meanings And Motivations Behind Angry Town Hall Meetings

"Angry crowds have put many lawmakers on the defensive as they try to talk about health care with their constituents, leading some to replace public forums with teleconferences or stepping up security to keep protesters at bay," The Associated Press reports. At a town hall meeting held by Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., "about 15 police officers — triple the normal security detail — were on duty Monday evening in case things took a turn. Guards filtered participants through a metal detector, audience members were warned that shouting would not be allowed, and the 500 in the crowd were told they would get no more than two minutes each to ask a question or make a comment."

At a Maryland town hall meeting Monday, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., was "forced to shout his way through a meeting in Towson, where angry constituents booed and jeered as the Democrat tried to explain the proposals moving through Congress." Meanwhile, "some liberal groups are organizing their own counter-protests. And Democrats are charging Republicans with sanctioning mob tactics and circumventing the process by fomenting made-for-TV shouting matches" (Bluestein, 8/11).

"After a week on the defensive, Democrats on Monday stepped up their response to what they consider to be a contrived harassment campaign against their healthcare plan," The Hill reports.

"House leaders, worried about attacks on their members in conservative districts, set up a 'war room' to answer lawmakers' policy questions and help them prepare for disruptions at town hall meetings.

Outside groups that support the healthcare overhaul also revved up their efforts. A coalition of religious groups is airing a television advertisement supporting the overhaul, holding 'in-district' prayer events in the districts of key lawmakers and preparing to host a national teleconference Aug. 19 that will feature Obama" (Soraghan, 8/10). 

The San Francisco Chronicle: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barnstormed through her home turf of San Francisco on Monday, touting the city as a crucible of innovation and a home for model social programs as she rallied support for health care reform. … At a conference on innovation at San Francisco's Mission Bay and at a Potrero Hill program helping connect families in poverty to overlooked benefits, Pelosi was greeted by friendly crowds and political allies. The tone was markedly different from chaotic town halls across the nation..." (Stannard, 8/11).

Meanwhile, "three leading Republican governors on Monday defended the heated exchanges and vigorous protests taking place at health care town hall events across the country," Politico reports. The Republican Governors Association held a conference call for reporters with Govs. Linda Lingle, R-HI, Sonny Perdue, R-Ga., and Haley Barbour, R-Miss., the RGA's chairman. "I think you see a heightened emotion and passion and, you say anger, because people are scared," said Lingle.

"Perdue suggested that media coverage of some of the town halls has been overblown, saying what he has seen at the town halls is 'democracy in action.' And "Barbour was more tempered in his support for the protesters, choosing to focus his time blasting President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats for, according to the Mississippi governor, trying to rush through a massive health care overhaul" (Barr, 8/10).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from more than 300 news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.