As they head home to their congressional districts for the August recess, lawmakers who support health care reform are bracing for protests and demonstrations that threaten to turn violent.
In North Carolina, a congressman who backs overhauling health care had his life threatened by a caller upset that he was not holding a public forum on the proposal.
Democratic Rep. Brad Miller received the call Monday, one of hundreds the congressman’s office has fielded demanding town-hall meetings on the health care proposal, said his spokeswoman, LuAnn Canipe. She said the callers were "trying to instigate town halls so they can show up and disrupt."
"We had one of those kind of calls that escalated to what we considered a threat" on the congressman’s life, Canipe said Friday. "These are some strong-arm tactics, and we are trying to deal with and trying to talk to people in good faith about health care reform."
Earlier this week, White House officials counseled Democratic senators on coping with disruptions at public events this summer.
In the week since the House began its break, several town-hall meetings have already been disrupted by noisy demonstrators.
The latest occurrence was at back-to-back town hall meetings held by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., which got so raucous police had to escort people out.
Dingell vowed Friday to push ahead with Democratic-led efforts to extend coverage to all, saying he won’t be intimidated by protesters.
"I am eager to talk about the bill with anyone who wants to discuss it. That doesn’t open the door to everyone who wants to demagogue the discussion," Dingell said in a statement.
The boos, jeers and shouts of "Shame on you!" at the events in a gym in Romulus, Mich., mirror what other Democrats are encountering around the country. Activists have shown up at town-hall meetings held recently by Arlen Specter, D-Pa. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was greeted by about 200 protesters at an event in Denver, about half supporting Democrats and half opposed.
In Saratoga Springs, N.Y., about 20 protesters showed up at an event held by Democratic Rep. Scott Murphy to let him know they oppose the health care plans in Washington. They carried signs saying: "Obamacare Seniors beware! Rationing is here," and "If socialized medicine is best … why didn’t Ted Kennedy go to Canada?"
The episodes have drawn widespread media attention, and Republicans have seized on them as well as polls showing a decline in support for President Barack Obama and his agenda as evidence that public support is lacking for his signature legislation.
Pushing back, Democrats have accused Republicans of sanctioning mob tactics, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., accused protesters earlier this week of trying to sabotage the democratic process.
Miller never had plans to hold a town-hall meeting during the August recess, Canipe said. Instead, he was sitting down with smaller groups of people to discuss the plan. During one of those smaller gatherings on Friday, hundreds of people from a group called Triangle Conservatives peacefully protested at Miller’s Raleigh office.
The threatening caller, when told by a staffer that Miller was not planning a meeting, claimed the congressman didn’t want to meet with people face to face because he knew it would cost him his life, according to Canipe. The staffer then asked if the caller was making a threat. The caller, said Canipe, replied that there are a lot of angry people out there.
The U.S. Capitol Police confirmed Friday they were looking into a threat against a congressman, but wouldn’t provide further details.
Associated Press Writer Erica Werner contributed to this report.