CBS’s Mitchell: Health Care Debate ‘Nasty National Shouting Match’

Russ Mitchell, CBS At the top of the 8:00AM ET hour of Wednesday’s Early Show, co-host Russ Mitchell cited protests at health care reform town hall meetings as evidence that the debate was "turning into a nasty national shouting match."

After playing a clip of a U.S. Chamber of Commerce ad opposing the health care plan, Mitchell observed: "Democratic lawmakers pushing reform are being jeered at testy town hall meetings. President Obama is urging Americans to ignore those who he says are trying to scare and mislead."

At the top of the show, co-host Harry Smith declared: "As President Obama takes his health care reform plan to the people, anger spills out all over the country." Smith later introduced a segment on President Obama’s Tuesday town hall: "First though, tempers boiled over again Tuesday in the heated debate over health care, nearly everywhere that is, except inside President Obama’s town hall meeting in New Hampshire."

In the report that followed, correspondent Kimberly Dozier further acknowledged the lack of opposition represented at the presidential event: " The White House was braced for a showdown at the town hall meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire yesterday. But the only fireworks we found were outside....Mr. Obama had it a lot easier than senators at other town hall meetings."

After Dozier’s report, Smith interviewed Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter about the town halls: "You’ve had several of these encounters now with people very angry about certain proposals being talked about and being proposed to change health care in the United States. As you’ve had a chance to reflect on them, what do you think?" Specter responded by discounting the influence of the protesters: "They have a right to do that and they have a right to speak. But I think we ought to understand that they’re not necessarily representative of America."

Smith then followed up by wondering: "Do you think they’re a vocal minority?" Apparently, Specter thought the term "minority" was even too generous: "Well, I sure think they’re vocal, Harry. And I think they’re not representative. I wouldn’t even classify them as a – as a minority. I would classify – when you say a minority, you’re talking about majority and minority as if there’s some sort of parity....I don’t think they represent all of America."

To his credit, Smith challenged Specter: "You don’t think there’s a frustration in the country with growing government, with a paternalistic government?" Specter conceded: "Yes, I think there is a frustration. And as I said at the outset, I think there is an anger and there’s a lot of worry about the deficit."

With his final question, Smith asked: "Let me ask you this. As you’ve endured and been a part of – experienced these confrontations face to face, has it changed your mind at all? Has it refined your thinking?" Specter replied: "Yes, it has. I have been impressed with the fact that people have been very well prepared. Now there’s no doubt the materials have been supplied to them. But they’ve come in with copies of the House bill, with the sections marked. And also, although they may not be representative, they’re significant. And they have to be listened to."

Here is a full transcript of Dozier’s report and the Specter interview:

7:00AM TEASE:

HARRY SMITH: As President Obama takes his health care reform plan to the people, anger spills out all over the country.

ARLEN SPECTER: Wait a minute. You want to leave? Leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I am going to speak my mind before I leave.

SMITH: We’ll talk with Senator Arlen Specter about what happened during his town hall meeting.

7:01AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: First though, tempers boiled over again Tuesday in the heated debate over health care, nearly everywhere that is, except inside President Obama’s town hall meeting in New Hampshire. CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier was there and joins us now from the White House. Kim, good morning.

KIMBERLY DOZIER: Good morning, Harry. The White House was braced for a showdown at the town hall meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire yesterday. But the only fireworks we found were outside.

SAM CATALDO [RESIDENT, FARMINGTON, NEW HAMPSHIRE]: We don’t need Obama and his crew to tell us how to die.

DOZIER: Inside, President Obama quickly turned the event into a forum to answer his critics.

BARACK OBAMA: For all the scare tactics out there, what is truly scary, what is truly risky is if we do nothing.

DOZIER: Mr. Obama had it a lot easier than senators at other town hall meetings.

CLAIRE MCCASKILL: Raise your hand if you are adamantly opposed to any federal health care reform. Would you raise your hand?

DOZIER: Like this one held by Senator Claire McCaskill in Missouri. And at this town hall with Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And then I was lied to because I came prepared to speak. And instead, you wouldn’t let anybody speak.

DOZIER: The President continues his push for health care reform with more travel this week. He’s holding another town hall meeting in Bozeman, Montana on Friday and yet another one in Colorado on Saturday. Harry.

SMITH: Kimberly Dozier at the White House this morning, thank you. Senator Arlen Specter joins us now for an interview from State College, Pennsylvania. Senator, good morning.

ARLEN SPECTER: Good morning, Harry.

SMITH: You’ve had several of these encounters now with people very angry about certain proposals being talked about and being proposed to change health care in the United States. As you’ve had a chance to reflect on them, what do you think?

SPECTER: Well, it’s more than health care, Harry. I think there is a mood in America of anger. With so many people unemployed and with so much bickering in Washington, people are disgusted with the partisanship and with the fear of losing their health care, it – it all boils over. But I think one thing that has to be borne in mind, and you’ve got the – you’ve got the commotion in the background – is that these people have a right to be organized. I’m not going to complain about the fact that they are organized. They have a right to do that and they have a right to speak. But I think we ought to understand that they’re not necessarily representative of America.

SMITH: Well, I guess that’s the question. Do you think they’re a vocal minority?

SPECTER: Well, I sure think they’re vocal, Harry. And I think they’re not representative. I wouldn’t even classify them as a – as a minority. I would classify – when you say a minority, you’re talking about majority and minority as if there’s some sort of parity. I think these people, who have a right to organize, and a right to come and talk, and a right to be in the meeting, not to disrupt, their freedom of speech ends when they interrupt somebody else’s freedom of speech. But I don’t think they represent all of America.

SMITH: You don’t think there’s a frustration in the country with growing government, with a paternalistic government?

SPECTER: Yes, I think there is a frustration. And as I said at the outset, I think there is an anger and there’s a lot of worry about the deficit. And I think President Obama was wise to make it explicit that he wouldn’t sign a health care bill that added to the deficit. And I have said publicly at these meetings, repeatedly, that I will not vote for a health care plan that produces a deficit. So there is a great concern about that.

SMITH: Let me ask you this. As you’ve endured and been a part of – experienced these confrontations face to face, has it changed your mind at all? Has it refined your thinking?

SPECTER: Yes, it has. I have been impressed with the fact that people have been very well prepared. Now there’s no doubt the materials have been supplied to them. But they’ve come in with copies of the House bill, with the sections marked. And also, although they may not be representative, they’re significant. And they have to be listened to. And I think that it’s a loud, clear warning to Congress, to Washington, that we’ve got to do something about it. And not just continue the same old partisan wrangling in Washington.

SMITH: Alright, Senator Arlen Specter, we thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us this morning.

SPECTER: I’m glad to be with you. Thank you, Harry.

SMITH: Alright, be well.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC