THE TREATMENT MARCH 21, 2010
You may have heard or read about the ugly scenes on Capitol Hill yesterday, when a few conservative activists shouted racial and homophobic epithets at Democratic lawmakers. Today the conservative activists are back. And so is the ugliness--only this time, a few Republicans were actually encouraging them.
That's an incendiary charge, I know. But let me describe what just transpired here inside the House of Representatives:
Moments ago, while members were on the floor for a vote, a protester stood up in the visitor's gallery and began shouting "Kill the bill! Kill the bill! Kill the bill!" Clerks quickly removed him. But as they were doing so, a number of Republicans--at least half a dozen, from what I could see from a few feet away--were cheering the man.
Representative Barney Frank, who was the target of yesterday's homophobic epithets, told reporters he was "appalled" and that he felt the Republicans "were encouraging him to resist. ... I've never seen members of the House cheering on a guy resisting being kicked out of the gallery. It's a dangerous situation and the Republicans are cheering him on."
Frank says he approached one of his Republican colleagues--I think he said it was Missouri's Roy Blunt--and told them his caucus should not be stoking this kind of emotion. Blunt apparently replied by saying he wasn't one of the Republicans cheering.
Meanwhile, conservative activists are staging a rally on the North lawn, which is right outside the House chamber. A trio of Republicans went to the House balcony and started waving hand-made signs saying "Kill...the...bill" as the crowd chanted. As a colleague of mine remarked, that scene was more farcical than scary--like a scene out of Evita. But there's something just a bit unsettling about all of this.
To be clear, I have no problem with a robust demonstration. The activists have every right to their views and every right to express those views. And I certainly don't want to impugn the actions a large group of people--whether it's the House Republican caucus or the protesters outside--based on the actions of a handful.
I'm told that Representative Mike Pence later said that he was glad the protester would be removed, assuring Democrats that Republicans would do what they could to uphold decorum. Good for him.
But, as I reported yesterday, the protests have taken on a slightly menacing tone, one that's manifesting itself in many different ways.
Marin Cogan, who wrote for TNR before moving over to Politico, reports that protesters confronted her on the way into the building, shoving a bullhorn in her face and yelling "Media bias! Media bias! Media bias!" And there were sharper confrontations with actual members of Congress.
She and her colleague, Meredith Shiner, filed this dispatch:
Tea Party protesters disrupted Speaker Nancy Pelosi's press stakeout at a House Office Building, yelling "you're a disgrace to your office" and one protester yelled a gay epithet at Rep. Barney Frank again on Sunday, adding yet another layer of chaos to an already tense afternoon on Capitol Hill.
In a moment of apparently unscripted political theater, Pelosi and Democratic leaders marched arm in arm across the Capitol complex while protesters yelled at them and police held a barricade.
The Pelosi disruption came inside the Cannon office building, where Democrats where whipping the final votes for the historic health care overhaul. When Pelosi said "We're doing this for the American people," a protestor yelled "you're doing this TO the American people!"
Someone in the crowd yelled "faggot" — an epithet overheard by a POLITICO reporter — at Frank, who is gay. A group of Catholics supporting reform sang a chorus of "we love you Barney, oh yes we do."
"It's like the Salem witch trials, and healthcare is the witches," Frank said. "There is mass hysteria."
Update: I originally wrote "dozen." That's because I accidentally deleted the phrase "half a." I only saw about six members cheering, although there could have been more.