Obama Distances Himself From Pelosi

President encourages "spirited" debate

By Nia-Malika Henderson
|  Tuesday, Aug 11, 2009  |  Updated 3:26 AM CDT
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Dan Thompson, 51, of Canton, Mich., center, speaks out against health care reform and yells at others during Congressman John D. Dingell's town hall meeting in Romulus, Mich. on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009.

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Ahead of his own town hall Tuesday, President Barack Obama sought to distance himself from charges by Democratic congressional leaders that boisterous health care dissent is "un-American," with his spokesman saying that the protests are a part of American life.

Yet Obama could be in for similar disruptions as he takes the health care road-show to Portsmouth, N.H., where both sides are gearing up for a vigorous session. But his spokesman pushed back against the comments by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer by saying that Obama is ready for whatever comes Tuesday.

"I think there's actually a pretty long tradition of people shouting at politicians in America. The President thinks that if people want to come and have a spirited debate about health care, a real vigorous conversation about it, that's a part of the American tradition and he encourages that," Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said.

"Now, if you just want to come to a town hall so that you can disrupt and so that you can scream over another person, he doesn’t think that that's productive. And as a country, we've been able to make progress when people actually talk out what our problems are, not try to shout each other down," Burton said.

Pelosi and Hoyer wrote an op-ed in USA TODAY Monday where they said that an "ugly campaign is underway not merely to misrepresent the health insurance reform legislation, but to disrupt public meetings and prevent members of Congress and constituents from conducting a civil dialogue."

“Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American. Drowning out the facts is how we failed at this task for decades," they wrote.

During the recess, members of Congress have been met by angry protestors, and Democrats have sought to characterize the protestors as an organized fringe. Yet the White House is clearly trying to tamp down the rhetoric as Obama is set to have his first town hall of the August recess.

Two additional health care town halls are scheduled for the rest of the week and a White House spokesman said that Obama will offer a more detailed and more specific explanation of why he believes health reform must be done this year.

At a news conference to close a North American summit in Mexico Monday, Obama predicted that Congress will pass health reform this year. “We are having a vigorous debate in the United States and I think that's a healthy thing," Obama said. "I suspect that once we get into the fall and people look at the actual legislation that's being proposed, that more sensible and reasoned arguments will emerge, and we're going to get this passed."

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