TPM News

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) has added his voice to those of Sierra Club and by calling for a criminal investigation of the forged letters sent by a lobbying firm on behalf of the coal industry.

It happened last night during an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. Toward the end of a segment that offered a good rundown of the story so far -- and particularly the crucial point that both Bonner and their coal industry client knew about the forgeries before the House vote on the energy bill, but didn't inform the affected lawmakers until after the vote -- Maddow asked Pallone whether the issue of the forged letters was something that "could potentially be a criminal matter."

Pallone replied:

I think it's possible, and I'm sure they will, and they certainly should investigate. Because, you know, we rely, and I think our democracy relies, on a certain amount of truth -- that when people are writing to you, that they are what they purport to be. And I think it is a form of fraud that should be investigated.

Congress is already probing the issue. Rep. Ed Markey has sent letters to Bonner and Associates and to the coal industry group on whose behalf Bonner was working, asking detailed questions about the episode.

FreedomWorks, an industry-funded group that helps fund and organize tea parties and other protests, has released an "August Recess Action Kit" to urge health care reform opponents to attend town hall meetings and "turn up the heat" on their representatives.

The kit includes postcards that read, "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that she's 'not afraid of August,' but she should be." The cards, which you can send to friends and neighbors, also has space for the place and time of the next local town hall.

And there's a letter that says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama should also be afraid.

It may be true that August is just a month, but it's also true that the longer we have to expose the real intentions and the economic ramifications of the Cap and Tax and health care reform legislation on the table, the more afraid Ms. Pelosi, Senator Reid, and President Obama should be.

FreedomWorks also includes a helpful Google Map of upcoming town halls, and encourages supporters to email pictures and videos of the events they attend.

It's safe to say that Barack Obama's outside political team is taking a slightly less brusque approach to swaying members of Congress than are health care reform opponents, who appear given to shout downs and intimidation.

An email, which went out today, urges the President's supporters to call their representatives and urge them to support health care reform--and then to register that call with OFA. The explicit goal is to prove to members that there's more support out there for health care reform than rowdy town hall attendees would like you to think.

"The goal of these disruptions is for a few people to get a lot a media attention and hijack the entire public discourse," the letter reads.

If they succeed, all Americans -- Democrats, Republicans, and Independents -- will continue to struggle under the broken status quo.

It's up to us to show Congress that those loudly opposing reform are a tiny minority being stirred up by special interests, and that a huge majority strongly support enacting real health insurance reform in 2009.

You can read a sample letter below the fold. The new strategy is part of larger Democratic strategy to characterize the town hall protesters as part of a right wing fringe, supported by conservative interest groups. And demonstrating that public support for reform swamps the opposition is crucial to that strategy.

Read More →

Despite growing pressure from President Barack Obama that health care reform negotiations in the Senate FInance Committee bear fruit by September, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) isn't giving an inch--and he's using the angry town hall disruptions as cover.

Enzi--who has played a key role in weakening Democrats' health reform proposal, and whose support for the final product is far from guaranteed--said Democrats are in for "some nasty, nasty town meetings," implying that the public disruptions are a symptom of liberal over reach, not of conservative rabble rousing.

He will soon participate in a meeting with Obama and five other members of the Senate Finance Committee to discuss their progress writing health care reform legislation. Hard to imagine this message will go over well with the White House.

The treasurer of labor union AFL-CIO released a statement today claiming the town hall "mob rule" is bankrolled by lobbyists. "This is a desperation move, meant to slow the momentum for change," it says.

Read the full text below:


August 6th, 2009

Every American has the inalienable right to participate in our democratic process. Our politics is passionate, heartfelt and often loud -- as was the founding of our nation. But that is not what the corporate-funded mobs are engaging in when they show up to disrupt town halls held by members of Congress.

Major health care reform is closer than ever to passage and it is no secret that special interests want to weaken or block it. These mobs are not there to participate. As their own strategy memo states, they have been sent by their corporate and lobbyist bankrollers to disrupt, heckle and block meaningful debate. This is a desperation move, meant to slow the momentum for change.

Mob rule is not democracy. People have a democratic right to express themselves and our elected leaders have a right to hear from their constituents -- not organized thugs whose sole purpose is to shut down the conversation and attempt to scare our leaders into inaction

We call on the insurance companies, the lobbyists and the Republican leaders who are cheering them on to halt these 'Brooks Brothers Riot' tactics. Health care is a crucial issue and everyone - on all sides of the issue - deserves to be heard.

The Blue Dogs just can't get a break. In addition to facing rhetorical fire from the left -- that is, from liberals who think they're too conservative on health care -- they're now facing fire from the right, in a new wave of radio ads from the Republican National Committee.

The new radio ads are targeting the four Blue Dog Congressmen who helped advance the health care bill out of committee: Bart Gordon (TN), Zack Space (OH), Baron Hill (IN) and Mike Ross (AR).

"[Congressman NAME] could have stopped the expensive Obama-Pelosi health care plan dead in its tracks," the announcer says. "[Congressman NAME] held a vote that counted. But instead of using that vote to help taxpayers, [Congressman NAME] used it to help Obama and Pelosi."

The Mike Ross version is available here. The full script is available after the jump.

Read More →

Here's another rowdy town hall meeting, this time from Arkansas.

Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR), the leader of the Blue Dogs, plus Rep. Vic Snyder (D-AR), were confronted by angry folks at a town hall meeting in Little Rock. It's unclear whether this was any sort of organized effort, or whether it was a loose set of angry people who happened to all show up to the same meeting. The attendees' overall theme was that their way of life was being destroyed:

"At this point in my life, I have never seen my America turned into what it has turned into, and I want my America back," said one woman, on the verge of tears. "And I don't think the Representatives and Senators are gonna be able to do it. I'm scared!"

When Snyder said, "Mike and I do not support a single-payer system, we are not interested in a single-payer system," people began yelling back things like, "That's bull," and "That's what Obama wants." Ross put his head in his hands during the heckling.

During a Sunday event at a senior center in Madras, Oregon, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) was confronted by the largest town hall crowd he's seen all year--approximately 200 people in a town of 6000.

Merkley has hosted over two dozen such events since February, and, according to his spokesman Marc Siegel, the tone of these events has become significantly more aggressive in the last few weeks, culminating in Sunday's raucous event.

"Many of the procedures laid out in the memo were implemented," Siegel told me, referring to this document, authored by a small group called Right Principles and disseminated to protest organizers across the country via an online list serv.

Read More →

The former mistress of John Edwards arrived at a federal courthouse in Raleigh, N.C., this morning, reports the Associated Press. Rielle Hunter is presumably testifying to a grand jury.

In video shown on CNN, Hunter had her daughter with her as she entered the courthouse.

Edwards has admitted a grand jury is investigating his use of campaign funds, but the U.S. Attorney's office in North Carolina won't confirm or deny an investigation. Edwards's political action committee paid Hunter's video production firm $100,000 in 2006, and another $14,086 in April 2007. Edwards said he ended the affair in 2006.

Late update: And here's the video.