Democrats, GOP Spar On Health Care Protests The August heat is making the health care debate sizzle. All over the country, opposition groups are shouting down members of Congress at town hall meetings and other public events. Democrats say it's a mob scene, whipped up by Republican activists. Republicans say it's the voice of the people.
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Democrats, GOP Spar On Health Care Protests

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Democrats, GOP Spar On Health Care Protests

Democrats, GOP Spar On Health Care Protests

Democrats, GOP Spar On Health Care Protests

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The August heat is making the health care debate sizzle. All over the country, opposition groups are shouting down members of Congress at town hall meetings and other public events. Democrats say it's a mob scene, whipped up by Republican activists. Republicans say it's the voice of the people.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. Maybe it's the August heat, but the health care debate is sizzling now. All over the country, opposition groups are shouting down members of Congress at town hall meetings and at other public events. Democrats say it's a mob scene whipped up by Republican activists. Republicans say it's the voice of the people.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.

ANDREA SEABROOK: The latest example: a town hall meeting last night in Romulus, Michigan.

(Soundbite of crowd protest)

SEABROOK: Some in the crowd confronted Democrat John Dingell, the longest-serving member of the House. At one point they let a cry to kill the bill.

Unidentified Group: Kill the bill, kill the bill...

SEABROOK: I reached Dingell by phone today.

Representative JOHN DINGELL (Democrat, Michigan): There are unfortunately apparently an array of itinerant troublemakers and agitators who are out stirring up trouble.

SEABROOK: Dingell says his staff discovered that some of the protestors came in from out of state and their goal was simply to stop any effort at overhauling health care.

Rep. DINGELL: By not only confusing people but by disrupting meetings and by preventing there being an honest discussion amongst the citizens about matters of great importance, which is an essential to free government.

SEABROOK: Here is Washington, as the Senate prepared to follow the House into the August recess, majority leader Harry Reid blamed the Republican Party for putting together a kind of fake grassroots campaign. To make his point, he held up a square of green plastic Astroturf for the clattering cameras.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada, Senate Majority leader): I just wanted to show you what Astroturf really is. This is not grassroots.

(Soundbite of crowd laughter)

Sen. REID: This is really Astroturf. They want to try to convince people that they're grassroots, and they're not. It's as phony as this is grass.

SEABROOK: The fury, said Reid, is being stirred up conservative talk show hosts and Fox News, goaded on by Republican leaders. House minority leader John Boehner warned last week that Democrats were going to have a very, very hot summer. But Republicans also say it's real frustration from real people and not all of these outbursts can be traced back to the Republican party.

Mr. BOB MacGUFFIE(ph) (Co-founder, Right Principles): My name is Bob MacGuffie. I'm a co founder of a grassroots organization here in Connecticut called Right Principles.

SEABROOK: MacGuffie is the man who wrote a memo, now all over the Internet, that explains how conservatives can shake up Democrats' town hall meetings. MacGuffie says, he is a lifelong libertarian, not a Republican. His memo instructs protestors to spread out in the room, make the Congressman feel like conservatives are the majority of the audience. It tells them to yell out and challenge the lawmaker early on, rattle him.

Mr. MACAFEE: You know I wrote an aggressive memo. There's no doubt that it's totally within the bounds of the democratic give and take. And if it's not, we have a problem.

SEABROOK: What is the point of trying to rattle the member of Congress who's speaking.

Mr. MACAFEE: Well, they come there with a prepared proposal to push to you and convince you that this is the right thing do, this is what I want you to know and we want to shake them up. I mean, you know, these people work for us. They work for us.

SEABROOK: MacGuffie's memo has been seized on by both sides. In it, Republicans see genuine grassroots outrage and organizing. Democrats say it exposes the nasty tactics of a small but loud minority. So far it's impossible to tell what kind of effect, if any, these town hall scuffles are having on other Americans. Whether the conflict will make voters uneasy about the health care bills, angry about the politics or whether they'll just block it out as being a whole lot of noise.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, Washington.

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