President Barack Obama’s reported visit to Bozeman next week could face the same kind of disruptions Democratic members of Congress are dealing with around the country as lawmakers head back to their districts for their August recess.
As Democrats and Republicans continue to battle over national health care reform, conservative groups are descending on “town hall” meetings and doing their best to heckle Democratic lawmakers and disrupt their listening sessions.
“I had felt they would be pointless,” Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) told POLITICO, referring to his recent decision to temporarily suspend the events in his Long Island district. “There is no point in meeting with my constituents and [to] listen to them and have them listen to you if what is basically an unruly mob prevents you from having an intelligent conversation.”
The White House won’t confirm Obama’s visit to Montana, but multiple sources are reporting that Obama plans to hold some kind of town hall meeting at an airport hanger in Bozeman on Aug. 14. Most observers believe Obama is coming to Montana to push his plan for health care reform. Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus is the Senate’s point man on reform, and so far bipartisan negotiations between three Democrats and three Republicans on the committee have failed to produce a bipartisan bill. Baucus reportedly set Sept. 15 as the deadline for the so-called “gang of six” to strike a deal on a reform bill.
Last night on NBC Nightly News, Obama indicated that if a bipartisan deal can’t be reached, then he’s willing to move forward on reform without the support of Republicans.
“I am glad that in the Senate Finance Committee there have been a couple of Republicans … who’ve been willing to negotiate with Democrats to try to produce a bill,” Obama told NBC News on Wednesday. “But they haven’t yet. And I think at some point, some time in September, we’re just going to have to make an assessment.”
“I would prefer Republicans working with us on that, because I think it’s in the interest of everybody. It shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” he added in the interview. “The bottom line is the American people, the American economy, and the federal budget, have to have some sort of reforms in the health-care system. And failure is not an option this year.”
You can watch the full interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd in the video lower down in this post.
Meanwhile, conservative groups opposed to Obama’s health care reform plans are now mobilizing in Montana. I just received this from “Americans for Prosperity,” a well-funded anti-reform group that also helped organize anti-tax “tea party” protests around the state and country earlier this year:
As Montana’s Congressional Delegation travels back home over the legislative recess to hear from their constituents, Americans for Prosperity’s Patients First Bus Tour will hit the road, too. The tour will urge grassroots activists to speak out on behalf of patients and against a government takeover of health care.
“Montanans are fired up about health care, and the bus tour gives more people the opportunity to come out and get involved,” said Abby Markham, spokesperson for Patients First’s Montana effort. “They’ve heard enough proposals from Washington that give government all the decision-making power. It is time for citizens to tell Congress to stop, turn around, and pursue real reforms that put patients first.”
The group plans to send a bus to the Obama event in Bozeman. You can read the full release along with bus stop dates and locations here.
According to Media Matters for America—a “Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.”—the town hall disruptions are part of an organized campaign by conservative anti-reform groups.
Conservative organizations opposed to health care reform — including FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and Conservatives for Patients’ Rights — are conducting a campaign to turn out their supporters to attend those events. CPR has reportedly “confirmed that it has undertaken a concerted effort to get people out to the town hall meetings to protest reform,” while FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity have reportedly “organized” the town hall protestors and are “harnessing social networking Web sites to organize their supporters in much the same way Mr. Obama did during his election campaign.” [Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, 8/4/09; The New York Times, 8/3/09]
I’ll keep updating The Lowdown as I learn more about Obama’s visit.
Here’s the NBC interview with Obama: