Parties Trade Charges Over Health Care Protests

Posted August 5, 2009 at 5:44pm

Republicans on Wednesday accused the Democratic National Committee of preparing to launch the same kind of “AstroTurf— protests on health care that Democrats themselves have denounced in recent days.The DNC denied that accusation — but its battle with the Republican National Committee is growing hotter as both parties bring the health care debate to the grass roots.Since the House broke last week for the August recess, Democratic lawmakers have been besieged by protesters at events in their home districts.Many of the protests have been organized by groups with connections to the GOP, insurance companies or other opponents of the Democratic-led health care reform effort, including FreedomWorks, which is helmed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas).Republicans have defended the protesters — and noted that pro-Democratic groups such as MoveOn.org have used similar tactics in the past — while Democrats have cried foul.“The Republicans and their allied groups — desperate after losing two consecutive elections and every major policy fight on Capitol Hill — are inciting angry mobs of a small number of rabid right-wing extremists funded by K Street lobbyists to disrupt thoughtful discussions about the future of health care in America taking place in Congressional districts across the country,— DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse said.But it now appears that Democrats may be looking to mobilize their own protests, Republicans said.Citing calls to Members’ field offices from anonymous callers with DNC phone exchanges, Republicans in the House and Senate accused Democrats of preparing to deploy crowds of protesters to lawmakers’ offices in the coming days.So far, according to aides, DNC callers have contacted the field offices of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), as well as House Republicans from Texas, Ohio and Michigan.“It really would not surprise me if they were planning counter-protests. Organizing sham protests to counter legitimate protests would fit their victimization strategy,— a Senate GOP aide said.But Woodhouse denied Democrats are planning their own protests and said that the calls are a standard practice to help activists meet with lawmakers. “We are calling all 100 [Senate] offices because we routinely help our activists set up meetings. We don’t have any protests planned, but it sounds like the Republicans are awfully jumpy,— Woodhouse said, adding that calls to House Republicans’ offices were likely, as well.John Hart, a spokesman for Coburn, was skeptical about the purpose of the calls. “There is nothing routine about their brazen attack against millions of Americans who have honest and legitimate concerns with the radical health care bill moving through Congress,— Hart said. “It seems fishy.—The DNC calls came as the organization’s feud with the RNC widened. In response to the protests at Democrats’ offices, the DNC urged its supporters through a Web ad to call the RNC’s offices to complain.In response, RNC Chairman Michael Steele directed his staff to set up their phone system to forward those angry callers to the DNC’s offices.