House Majority Whip Likens Health Care Outrage To Terrorism

More than 10 lawmakers say they have received threats in the days following Sunday’s vote on health care legislation. House Majority Whip Congressman James Clyburn has strongly criticized the actions, calling the lack of decorum in American political discussion, “a political sore.” Guest host Allison Keyes speaks with Congressman James Clyburn; he’s a Democrat from South Carolina.

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ALLISON KEYES, host:

I'm Allison Keyes and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, advocates are reaching for the stars to get people excited about the census. We'll hear from actress Rosario Dawson about why she's fighting for Latinos to stand up and be counted.

But, first, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer held a press conference yesterday to express his concern about more than 10 lawmakers who say they've gotten threats in the wake of Sunday's House vote on the health care bill. Democrat Bart Stupak of Michigan has received a number of threat-filled and angry phone and fax messages to his office.

Stupak had vowed to oppose the health care package unless it contained language that would not allow federal funding of elective abortions. He later voted in favor after making a deal with the Obama administration. Stupak's office released some of the messages.

Unidentified Woman: Congressman Stupak, you are one big piece of human (beep). And think about this: there are millions of people across the country who wish you ill. And all of those thoughts projected on you will materialize into something that's not very good for you. Go to hell, you piece of (beep).

KEYES: Congressman Stupak has declined to comment further on the threats. Majority Whip James Clyburn, a Democrat from South Carolina, joined Hoyer at the press briefing yesterday. It's been reported that he's linked the threats to terrorism. He joins us now. Congressman Clyburn, welcome back.

Representative JAMES CLYBURN (Democrat, South Carolina): Thank you so much for having me.

KEYES: Were you able to link the threats to terrorism, sir?

Rep. CLYBURN: I think these people are attempting to terrorize people. That's all it is. We usually think of that term terrorism in sort of an international way. Well, I grew up when Ku Klux Klan came through my neighborhood. I grew up in a high school where a cross was burned on the lawn of the high school. What would you call that, when that kind of activity take place? And as I said the other day, when I looked in the lives of some of these people and I heard some of what theyre saying, you're looking at all of this stuff, these placards that theyve got out there, I - I'll let people call it what they will.

KEYES: Congressman, do you and your colleagues feel safe right now?

Rep. CLYBURN: Well, I do. Sure, I feel safe. As I told one of those hecklers out there, I'm the hardest person in the world to intimidate. So, their heckling won't bother me a bit. Now, there are some people got unnerved by it. But, when you've marched on the line in Orangeburg, South Carolina, when you've sat at the lunch counter back in the 1960s, this is like water on a duck's back to me.

KEYES: What have the congressional Republicans said about all this?

Rep. CLYBURN: Oh, I don't know. I've talked to the leadership on the other side. Ive not talked to a lot of the Republicans except one came over to me to apologize and says, you know, if you're making up a resolution, I'm voting for it.

KEYES: Do you think that they I know that many of them have condemned the threats. Do you think they've gone far enough?

Rep. CLYBURN: Well, this is a work in progress. We'll keep working on this on both sides of the aisle. I do believe, though, that you have to decide which side of this issue that you're on. I don't know how anybody can condone members standing up in the chambers cheering as people are up in the balcony jeering. That violates decorum of the House. And I think it's a very serious thing to have an elected member of Congress clapping hands when someone is disrupting the proceedings of the House. That's aiding and abetting, and I think that that's not a good thing.

KEYES: So, you believe that some of your colleagues' actions are goading the anger behind these threats?

Rep. CLYBURN: I said it's aiding and abetting, and that's the term I'm going to use.

KEYES: What are you doing to protect yourself? Has there been an increase in security at the House or at your home?

Rep. CLYBURN: Not that I know of.

KEYES: What about some of the other members? And can you tell us, who else has been subjected to this?

Rep. CLYBURN: Well, I won't call their names, but there are 10 to 20 people who have brought issues to me, Hispanic members, more than one, openly gay members or African-Americans. And two or three white members, what I call of European descent, who said that they have been getting phone calls. But, you know, this is nothing new.

When I first got elected, or during my first run for reelection, one person said to me, I don't see how you can be a Democrat and a Christian. Or, what are you talking about? I mean, what's my political affiliation got to do with my religious beliefs? I mean, I grew up an (unintelligible). And so, you know, there are people who have these feelings and I guess they'll see whether or not they prevail at the polls.

KEYES: Congressman, last question: someone suggested that these threats are connected. I believe your colleague, Louise Slaughter out of New York, has said there's a pattern here. Do you believe there is a thread that connects these incidents, and is there evidence of that?

Rep. CLYBURN: Oh, there's no question about that. This stuff didn't happen, as we say, down in (unintelligible) country, just right along so. These things happened because somebody planned them well, they coordinated them and they paid for the travel for the people that come here. I looked at some of these people and I watched them, and I can guarantee you, they did not pay their own way here. Somebody paid them to come here. Somebody paid their motel rooms while theyre here. Somebody bought their meals for them while theyre here. And I've said to other media people, they had asked me who, I said, well, you just go follow the money.

KEYES: House Majority Whip James Clyburn is a Democrat from South Carolina. He joined us by phone from his office in Washington. Thank you, sir.

Rep. CLYBURN: Okay, thank you.

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