Durbin Responds To Lobbyist-Run Efforts To Harass Town Halls: We ‘Won’t Fall For A Sucker-Punch Like This’

ThinkProgress reported today on the growing number of angry right-wing activists viciously harassing Democratic, as well as moderate Republican, members of Congress on health care reform. Jonathan Cohn wrote that these tactics represent “classic astroturf organizing, in some cases bankrolled by the health care industry.” The insurance industry is sending staff members to over 30 states to “confront” lawmakers about health care reform. Simultaneously, Cohn writes, the health care industry will use the August recess to “flood the airwaves with ads picking apart reform legislation.” Indeed, AHIP, the lobbying juggernaut for the health insurance industry, has promised to change its tone and begin running negative ads on reform soon.

ThinkProgress sat down today with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) to discuss efforts by the health insurance industry and the right wing to derail health reform. Asked about the recent ambushes at town halls, Durbin expressed confidence that his “colleagues won’t fall for a sucker-punch like this”:

DURBIN: Well I think members should be out, speaking with the public, meeting with people who are the health care professionals and talking about the current situation. I’ve done it and I’ll continue to do it. But you know, I hope my colleagues won’t fall for a sucker-punch like this. These health insurance companies and people like them are trying to load these town halls for visual impact on television. They want to show thousands of people screaming ‘socialism’ and try to overcome the public sentiment which now favors health care reform. That’s almost like flooding the switchboards on Capitol Hill. It doesn’t prove much other than the switchboards have limited capacity. So, we need to have a much more balanced approach that really allows members of Congress to hear both sides of the story, rather than being sucker-punched or side-tracked by these types of tactics.

Watch it:


The same lobbyist-run groups which orchestrated the tea party protests — Americans for Prosperity, run by a former associate of Jack Abramoff, and FreedomWorks, run by former Republican Majority Leader and current lobbyist Dick Armey — are now pushing to use the August recess as an opportunity to present a guise of public opposition to health care reform. ThinkProgress obtained a leaked memo from Bob MacGuffie, a volunteer with Tea Party Patriots, a website sponsored by Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, that details how members should be infiltrating town halls and harassing Democratic members of Congress. Recommended tactics include: “yell,” “stand up and shout,” and “rattle” lawmakers.


The Wonk Room’s Pat Garofalo reports that, in a separate portion of the interview with ThinkProgress, Durbin spoke about the possibility of passing mortgage cram-down legislation. “The banking industry is extremely powerful on Capitol Hill and this is a proposal that they hate the most,” he said. “Unfortunately, they don’t have an alternative and the foreclosure crisis is getting much worse.”