Published August 10, 2009
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi turned the health care debate up a notch Monday, penning a column along with her top deputy that questioned the patriotism of those disrupting town hall meetings to air their complaints.
Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer claimed such behavior is "simply un-American."
It's hardly the first time Pelosi, who earlier this year accused the CIA of lying to Congress and repeatedly has called Republicans unpatriotic, has employed some serious name-calling to characterize her opponents' views.
The jab Monday drew swift scorn from Republicans and critics who say the health care demonstrations are as American as apple pie.
"I, like most Americans, would find that kind of characterization of citizens exercising their First Amendment rights to be offensive," Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., told FOX News. "There's nothing more American than letting your elected representatives know how you feel about important issues facing the nation."
House Republican Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, released a statement calling the charge "outrageous and reprehensible."
Pelosi and Hoyer made the accusation as part of a lengthy column in USA Today stressing the need for action on health care reform. The piece was published as lawmakers return to their districts for summer recess, a period that could imperil the legislation if health care critics cause moderate Democrats to lose their stomachs for sweeping reform.
Critics have confronted lawmakers about the bills, sometimes shouting at them, at a number of town halls in the past week alone.
On Monday, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill tried a new tack in rebutting the protesters while also minimizing their complaints. She got several hands when she asked audience members at a town hall meeting to raise their hands if they're so scared about the federal government running health care that they "can't think straight."
For Pelosi and Hoyer, they charged that an "ugly campaign" is afoot to misrepresent the legislation, "disrupt" the public meetings and prevent members of Congress from "conducting a civil dialogue" on the topic.
"Let the facts be heard," they wrote. "These disruptions are occurring because opponents are afraid not just of differing views -- but of the facts themselves. Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American. Drowning out the facts is how we failed at this task for decades."
The "un-American" dig was a sign the debate is heating up. In a tight spot, Pelosi is known for employing tough rhetoric and accusations to muscle her way out.
Back in September 2008, Pelosi used similar language to complain about Republicans who weren't showing up to talks on a Wall Street bailout package.
"I thought it was very unpatriotic of them not to show up, not to show up, in some ways, boycott the meetings earlier in the week," she said.
She also reportedly called the GOP budget in 2006 "unpatriotic" because it drove up the national debt.
This past May, she accused the CIA of lying to Congress, as she was facing questions about how much she knew early on about the Bush administration's interrogation policies.
Then last week, with the health care debate growing more heated, she invoked Nazi Germany, accusing protesters of "carrying swastikas and symbols like that" to meetings. A spokesman for Pelosi later said the speaker was referencing a photo taken at a town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., which showed a protester holding a sign of a swastika crossed out over President Obama's name and a question mark.
Yet the language Pelosi is using for health care critics is nothing like the language she used to describe anti-war protesters criticized by war supporters as unpatriotic.
Pelosi, who led efforts to withdraw from Iraq before troops had finished the job, tolerated anti-war hecklers on several occasions.
"It's always exciting," she said of protesters who interrupted a meeting in January 2006, according to an account in the San Francisco Chronicle. "This is democracy in action. I'm energized by it, frankly."
At an event in June 2007, she told anti-war protesters "just go for it, I respect your enthusiasm," according to another account.
The claims of "un-American" behavior by critics is not something made by President Obama, who on Monday withheld criticism of his health care detractors.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said there's not really any "substantive difference" between the anti-war protests of MoveOn and Code Pink then and the health care reform criticism today -- other than the subject being addressed.
Cornyn told FOX News he thinks the latest charge of being "un-American" is a "pretty harsh statement" about Americans who have serious concerns about the health care legislation.