Barney Frank: 'Mass hysteria' on Capitol Hill
Barney Frank: 'Mass hysteria' on Capitol Hill
By MARIN COGAN & MEREDITH SHINER | 3/21/10 1:51 PM EDT
Updated: 3/21/10 2:58 PM EDT
Tea Party protesters disrupted Speaker Nancy Pelosi's press stakeout at a House Office Building, yelling "you're a disgrace to your office" and one protester yelled a gay epithet at Rep. Barney Frank again on Sunday, adding yet another layer of chaos to an already tense afternoon on Capitol Hill.
In a moment of apparently unscripted political theater, Pelosi and Democratic leaders marched arm in arm — with civil rights pioneer John Lewis — across the Capitol complex while protesters yelled at them and police held a barricade.
The Pelosi disruption came inside the Cannon office building, where Democrats where whipping the final votes for the historic health care overhaul. When Pelosi said "We're doing this for the American people," a protestor yelled "you're doing this TO the American people!"
Someone in the crowd yelled "faggot" — an epithet overheard by a POLITICO reporter — at Frank, who is gay. A group of Catholics supporting reform sang a chorus of "we love you Barney, oh yes we do."
"It's like the Salem witch trials, and healthcare is the witches," Frank said. "There is mass hysteria."
Some Republican lawmakers encouraged the protesters.
As the House was voting on an unrelated bill, Republican Reps. Tom Latham of Iowa, Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri, Brett Guthrie of Kentucky and Greg Harper of Mississippi stood on south balcony off the House floor - an area known informally as "the beach" — holding pieces of paper that read "kill the bill" to a group of cheering protestors. Some Republican lawmakers waved a "Don't Tread on Me" flag from the balcony, causing the crowd to go wild.
Inside the House chamber, a protester was ejected by Capitol Police after yelling from the House gallery.
Frank was visibly angry with his GOP colleagues whom he believed goaded the protesters.
"Did you guys see the Republicans encouraging the disruption?" Frank left the House floor to tell about 15 reporters. "These clowns are out there encouraging violation of the law and making the job of the guys up there harder. It's really disgraceful."
Outside the Capitol on a brilliant spring afternoon, Pelosi and Democratic leaders marched across the Capitol complex — after Lewis gave a speech to the Democratic caucus that motivated the impromptu walk.
The five-minute unplanned walk of the Democratic caucus from Cannon to the Capitol led to complete chaos. Pelosi held the gavel that was used to pass Medicare. The rest of the members locked arms. Police shoved reporters, and the members flowed out of Cannon into streets where protestors loudly screamed "Kill the Bill."
But Tea Partiers don't necessarily own the Capitol lawn today.
While Tea Partiers flew American flags and sang""God bless America" and "We shall overcome" — the anthem of the civil rights movement — a major immigration rally unfolded on the National Mall.
The two groups have not directly clashed, but as they loomed close to one another, tensions ran high.
Immigration reformers had been planning the march for some time to pressure the Obama administration to address immigration reform as he had promised in his campaign. Many were young and rowdy, chanting "Obama, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!"
Cries of "Si se puede!" Clashed with "Kill the bill!" across the National Mall.
But most of the attention was focused on the Tea Party, whose protest on the hill yesterday and rush towards the Rayburn building created some serious moments of tension for Capitol Police and lawmakers. Out of Saturday's clash came accusations that some Tea Partiers yelled racial and homophobic epithets at lawmakers. Lawmakers of both parties condemned the attacks on Sunday.
One Tea Parter protester stuck a bullhorn in a POLITICO reporter's face, and chanted "media bias!"
On the fringes of the crowd on Sunday, protesters squabbled with what they said were Service Employees International Union members.
Some Tea Party organizers were warning protesters not to engage counter demonstrators.
"We do not want to engage with them if they come up" said Mary Beth Martin.
The crowd, which looked smaller today, was still planning to pressure wavering Democrats in their offices.
"We're going to Dahlkemper's office again and again and again," one protester said, of Pennsylvania Democrat Kathy Dahlkemper, an anti-abortion Democrat who is undecided.
"And when she votes for it?" "We'll go again?" his daughter asked with a hint of exasperation.
Martin warned the crowd not to let accusations of racism cloud the debate. "That's not what we're about. we're about three things: fiscal accountability, constitutionally limited government and free government," she said.
The stew of passions from disperate demographics and political interests promised to make this a tense Sunday -- hours ahead of the House health care vote.
"Those are the Tea Party movement" said one immigration reformer leading a crowd of young people across the street. "Obama is afraid of them...well we're going to tell him he needs to be afraid of us, because he's not making enough change right now!"
Across the street from the immigration protesters, Tea Partiers were yelling " free people not slaves!" One rallier told the crows if signs were not in English they should be dismissed. "If we can't read it we don't need it," he said, to audience.
"Obama, god is watching you," an immigration reformer screamed.
Kasie Hunt, James Hohmann and Jake Sherman contributed to this report.