Republicans rally Tea Party activists to oppose the health-care legislation

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 21, 2010; 7:01 PM

Congressional Republicans rallied Tea Party activists to oppose the health-care legislation on the verge of being approved by Congress even as party leaders began to look beyond Sunday's vote to campaigning against the reform in the fall elections.

As a group of several hundred protesters on the lawn of the Capitol shouted "No! No! No!" "Nancy, you will burn in hell for this!" and "Kill the bill!" rank-and-file Republican lawmakers came out to the balcony off the House floor in the midst of a series of procedural votes. Two different trios of GOP lawmakers, including Rep. Tom Latham (Iowa) and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (Mo.), waved signs with the words "Kill" "The" and "Bill" as the crowd cheered.

The crowd booed as Rep. John Carter (R-Tex.) held up his copy of the legislation, which is more than 2,000 pages long, and loudly cheered as Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.) waved a "Don't Tread on Me" flag.

Two people were arrested in the House gallery Sunday afternoon and charged with disruption of Congress, according to Lt. Raymond Howellof the Capitol police. He said that William Gunn and David Sanders, both ofMassachusetts, had stood up and yelled, "Kill the Bill" and that neither resisted removal from the gallery. Disruption of Congress is a misdemeanor.

The group of protesters, while much smaller than the thousands who attended a rally Saturday, added to a tense atmosphere on Capitol Hill. After the protesters shouted epithets at gay and black lawmakers Saturday, barricades and additional police officers separated lawmakers from the activists. The crowd, mostly white and older than 50, was full of people waving American flags.

Democratic lawmakers generally avoided the scene, using the underground tunnels that connect their offices to the Capitol instead of walking into the conservative protest. And several Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.) and Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), walked by the protesters without incident.

But protesters shouted an anti-gay epithet at Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) for the second day in a row, Politico reported. Frank called Republicans "disgraceful" for encouraging the protesters.

Howell said no arrest resulted from the incident Saturday in which a protester spat on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) because of "lack of positive identification."

GOP leaders have distanced themselves from the epithets but defended the motives of the protesters. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who called the slurs "reprehensible," did not interact with the activists when he briefly walked out on the balcony during a vote.

The Republican lawmakers who met the protesters were greeted as heroes.

"The people who are voting for this are going to be held accountable," Davis told the protesters as he chatted with them.

Even as they loudly protested the legislation, conservative activists and GOP lawmakers were looking beyond Sunday's health-care vote in the House, casting the November elections as the true referendum on a measure they have adamantly opposed for months.

"If this bill passes, we will have an effort to repeal the bill, and we'll do it the same way that we approached health care, a step-by-step basis," Boehner said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I'd have a bill on the floor, the first thing out, to eliminate the Medicare cuts, eliminate the tax increases, eliminate the mandate that every American has to buy health insurance."

Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said, "I think the ballot box will be the last voice in this big campaign for health care."

"I don't know if our victory will come on the third Sunday in March or the first Tuesday in November, but our victory will come," Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), the No. 3 Republican in the House said to loud applause at a rally of Tea Party activists Saturday. "So be confident, stay firm, stay in the fight, let your voice be heard."

Democrats strongly dispute the idea that the GOP will benefit from the health-care vote.

"I think the politics of this, by the way, we pass this, we're in much better shape politically as a Democratic Party than we are today, because we're going to go out there and not just talk about what we're for, but what the Republicans are voting against," said David Plouffe, who ran Obama's 2008 campaign and remains an adviser to the administration.

Appearing on ABC News "This Week, Plouffe added: "They are siding with the insurance companies over people who are denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, siding with the insurance companies over saving seniors money. So this isn't just about us being a pinata here in the election. Elections are about choices. They are voting against an enormous tax cut for health care for 40 million middle-class families and 4 million small businesses. That's what they're opposing here."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company