House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) believes that tempers have calmed after the vitriolic lead up to the health care reform bill in late March.
Lawmakers returned to Washington this week after a two-week hiatus for Easter and Passover on the heels of passing the controversial health care reform law. But before the vote, anti-health care protesters swarmed Capitol Hill, angry callers jammed Congressional phone lines and many lawmakers and even the Senate parliamentarian received threats.
“I found it a more civil environment,” said Hoyer, who traveled to multiple Congressional districts over the break, describing it as an “atmosphere somewhat toned down.”
Still, Hoyer noted the abrupt retirement announcement late last week by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) who received threats and faced protesters in his rural district in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A pro-life Democrat, Stupak worked for months to receive assurances that the health care bill wouldn’t pay for abortions with taxpayer money. In doing so, the nine-term lawmaker infuriated activists on both sides of the abortion issue and became the central player in the debate to reform the nation’s health care system.
“There’s a need for all public officials to urge people to conduct themselves in a civil way,” said Hoyer when speaking about Stupak’s announcement. But the Maryland Democrat noted he didn’t think that profane phone calls and violent warnings addressed to Stupak played any role in the Congressman’s decision to step down.
“Bart Stupak is a very courageous member and wasn’t forced out by anybody,” said Hoyer of the former Michigan State Trooper.
Still, Hoyer was dismayed about the volume level that engulfed health care, indicating that one protester he encountered over the break referred to him a “tyrant and a traitor.”
“We didn’t have a long, intellectual discussion about that,” Hoyer said.
The leader also singled out Minnesota talk show host Chris Baker for remarks he made at a rally with former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). Hoyer said Baker referred to Democrats as “lying’, thieven’ commies.”
On his website, Baker describes himself as an “independent conservative” who sees “politicians as nothing more than puppets and gangsters.”
Hoyer criticized some of the rhetoric as “dangerous” and described some Republican efforts to decry the health bill as “scare tactics.”
An effort to reach Baker for comment was unsuccessful.