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White House officials today went on the offensive, trying to discredit the town hall protesters and promising to aggressively fight misinformation campaigns.

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters he believes some of the anger at the health care meetings is manufactured by groups that are "very involved in the status quo."

"You've had groups today, the Conservatives for Patients' Rights, that have bragged about organizing and manufacturing that anger," Gibbs said today during his press briefing.

"I think what you've seen is they've bragged about manufacturing, to some degree, that anger. I think you've got somebody who's very involved, a leader of that group that's very involved in the status quo," he added, referring to Rick Scott. "That's a lot of what you need to know about the motives of that group."

David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the president, said the administration would "aggressively" respond to misinformation about health care reform.

"Health insurance reform is an issue that lends itself to fear mongering, lends itself to distortion, and lends itself to misinformation. Where we see it, we're going to respond to it aggressively," Axelrod said during an interview with MSNBC today. "The American people need to know the facts, and we're gonna make sure they have the facts. We're not gonna allow anyone to distort those facts."

Health care reform, he said, "won't get done if we're passive in the face of misinformation campaigns."

(Ed. note: After their lunch today with President Obama, the Senate Democratic Caucus spoke with reporters outside the White House. This is the transcript, via Congressional Quarterly.)

REID: This was a wonderful time we spent together. It gave us a time to reflect on how far we have come in a very short period of time. The mass of legislation that's now law in this country, we talked about that, the very first thing we did to the thing we're working on now, which is health care. There was absolute unity in the caucus. Different ideas were expressed, but every idea was that we understand that before year's end we're going to get comprehensive health care reform.

We have -- four of the five committees have completed their work. Everyone recognizes that we are going to do, if there's any way humanly possible, a bipartisan bill. We don't want to do a partisan bill, and we hope our Republican colleagues acknowledge that. We'll continue to work with them as long as we have to.

The American people want health care reform, and we're going to do health care reform. In spite of the loud, shrill voices trying to interrupt town hall meetings and just throw a monkey wrench into everything, we're going to continue to be positive and work hard.

There was a lot of experience in that room. And we had someone who was leading us that we all admire so very, very much. The president didn't get one standing ovation, but several of them.

He was -- really kind of reminded me of the days when I was an athlete and the coach was giving you a pep talk before the game. You came out of that pep talk that the coach gave you ready to take on the world. We're ready to take on the world.

Senator Dodd?

DODD: Well, Leader, thank you. We thank the president. This was very gracious.

We were going to recommend we do this every Tuesday here at the White House, having lunch. But the president was enthusiastic about where we are and what we've accomplished.

And let me just echo the leader's words and the president's strong suggestion, obviously, and that is that we get this job done.

As the leader has pointed out, four of our five committees have acted. I have a lot of confidence in the person standing to my left immediately, Max Baucus, who's been through a Herculean effort here to reach a bipartisan agreement in the Finance Committee. I'm confident we can get that done.

With Max's leadership, leading the HELP Committee in Senator Kennedy's absence, we're ready and willing, of course, to sit down and meld our legislation, to begin the work with the House. The process is a dynamic one. It's open.

We're welcoming people who want to come to our table and share their ideas, whether they be Democrats, Republicans, nurses, doctors, the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, others who have ideas they think can help improve and strengthen our efforts. We welcome that participation. But we're determined to get this job done. We're going to be gone for a month. In that month that we're gone, 500,000 people will lose their health care coverage in the United States, 14,000 people a day. We need to come back with a renewed sense of purpose that we're going to do everything possible to bring that sense of certainty and stability to the American public that they no longer have to worry at night as to whether or not they have the coverage or the opportunity for care if they get into trouble.

Many of you may know, I'm going to go through some surgery in a few days. I have a great health care plan. I've never worried about whether or not I had a health care plan or I could get good care when I needed it. My case shouldn't be any different than any other American's. When they get sick or need help, we ought to be able to get it in this country.

Just because I'm a member of Congress and have a good federal health care plan doesn't mean that others shouldn't have that sense of security and confidence, as well. And I'm confident that we Democrats and Republicans, if they'll join us, can get that job done.


BAUCUS: This was an enthusiastic, comforting, warm reaffirmation, reconfirmation that health care is so necessary for the American people, and we, working together, will accomplish it. We'll get it done this year.

We agreed that it should be bipartisan, because that's more sustainable, it's more enduring, it's the right thing to do. The American people want us to be working together.

Second, we agreed that we've got to get costs down, because costs are just too high. And about a third of our health care expenditures today are -- is waste. We've got to wring the waste out of the system so that American families don't have to spend as much, American businesses don't have to spend so much, and the budgets aren't -- aren't so high.

We also rededicated our commitment to reforming the health insurance industry. Why? Because so many companies, frankly, are taking advantage of way too many Americans with denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, health status, and so forth.

Bottom line is, we're going to try to get a bipartisan bill. I think that's the right thing to do for the country. The president does, too. But beyond that, we're going to get health care reform passed this year, working together.

Senator Dodd and I have two separate bills, virtually -- about 80 percent of that is contained in both bills. There's about -- there's very little difference here. But we are going to get costs down. We're going to reform the health insurance industry. And we're going to get coverage for Americans.

And it was really a wonderful meeting, led by a terrific man, our president, Barack Obama. And one of the senators was saying to me, as we walked out, "You know, it's just so wonderful to hear him speak." You know, it's like a symphony. It's like just a great -- it's just -- he is so good. He just has it together. He's for all the right reasons. And it was, therefore, a great motivation by our leader to go out in this month of August, and we're going to get this done for the right reasons, because it's the right thing to do.

QUESTION: What makes you think you have the Democratic votes to do this on a partisan basis, especially in the House?


BAUCUS: Quick question. Sorry?

QUESTION: What makes you all think you could get it done on a partisan basis, particularly in...

BAUCUS: On a partisan -- on a partisan or bipartisan?


QUESTION: ... with Democratic votes?

BAUCUS: Well, we're -- the preference...


BAUCUS: The preference is do it together. The American people want us to work together. The American people do not like partisanship. But the American people also don't like groups of people trying to kill something that should be done, should get passed, health care reform. And we know that we have to reform the health care system, because the costs otherwise are eating us alive. We've got to reform the health insurance industry.

So we're going to get it done, but our hope is we'll get it done together first.

QUESTION: Are the American people for this specific plan or...

REID: If we were in Nevada and it was 115, we'd take a lot of questions, but it's not 115 here, high humidity, a couple of questions.

QUESTION: Was there any discussion of the climate change legislation, Senator?

REID: Yes, we discussed it. We sure did. Senator Bingaman, the chairman of the committee, talked about energy legislation. Yes, we -- we covered it. We spent a lot of time on a lot of different issues.


QUESTION: Are you going to be able to...


REID: Cash for Clunkers, we'll pass Cash for Clunkers.

QUESTION: When will you do that?

REID: Before we leave here.

QUESTION: Do you think you have the votes for it?

REID: Yes.

QUESTION: Did the president -- did the president ask to get more -- did anyone ask the president to weigh in with more details (OFF- MIKE)

REID: As Senator Baucus said, 80 percent of the two bills represented by these two chairmen are together, anyway. The president has been involved in this from the very beginning. Anyone that -- anyone that thinks President Obama and his people have not been involved in health care reform haven't followed what's going on.

There isn't a day goes by that I don't talk to several people in the White House about health care reform. And the same applies to the two chairmen.

BAUCUS: And the main -- and the main thing -- and the main thing -- the main thing here -- the main thing here is this is so right, it's so much the right thing to do, when we go out during the August recess and beyond and explain with such conviction why this is the right thing to do, the American people are going to start to realize that is the case.

Polls show that, when American people explain that much of health care reform is insurance market reform -- that is, putting the kibosh on insurance companies -- then it becomes quite popular. So our goal is to explain what we're doing, why we are doing this, getting costs down, reforming the insurance industry, and -- and -- making sure that people don't -- are able to keep their same doctor and keep their same plan and have the choice that they want to have. And when they understand that, then I think it's going to work out quite well.

REID: One last question.


REID: Yes?


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) credits under the cap-and-trade bill?

REID: We're working on that now. I've heard from both the chairmen, Baucus and Boxer, and we're working that out, and I'll have to work that out, and I'll do that.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has been one of the latest targets of the Tea Party crowd. During a stop today in the upstate New York district of Democratic Rep. Michael Arcuri, Hoyer was loudly interrupted by a group calling itself the Fort Stanwix Tea Party "Patriots" (quotation marks theirs, oddly enough):

"You're lying to me," said "Patriots" ringleader Don Jeror -- who previously organized the area Tea Party back in April, interestingly -- interrupting Hoyer. "Just because I don't have sophisticated language, I can recognize a liar when I see one."

Jeror also declared: "Why would you guys try to stuff a health care bill down our throats in three to four weeks, when the President took six months to pick a dog for his kids?!"

After a meeting at the White House with President Obama and Senate Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid acknowledged that the tea bagging town hall disruptions had picked up his attention, and had a simple response: We'll get health care done anyhow.

"In spite of the loud, shrill voices trying to interrupt town hall meetings and just throw a monkey wrench into everything," Reid said, "we're going to continue to be positive and work hard."

Reid's acknowledgment of the town hall disruptions is among the first from a senior Democrat, and a sign that the protesters are getting under the skin of those who stand to suffer politically if health care reform fails.

Reid appeared with other key senators, including Majority Whip Dick Durbin, and Sens. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Max Baucus (D-MT)--who've taken the lead in drafting legislation in the Senate HELP and Finance Committees--to allay the concern of some liberals that the protesters were sapping the reform movement of momentum.

The NRCC is openly celebrating the disrupted town hall meetings that Democrats are running into, sending out a new series of e-mails to reporters headed "Recess Roastings," linking to news articles about the events. They even have a fun logo:

The first e-mail was headed, "How's That Healthcare "Offensive" Going? / Three Days Into August Sales Pitch, Dems Feel Heat Over Government Healthcare Takeover"; followed by, New Dem Message on Healthcare: Blame the Voters / Roaring Chants Interrupt Healthcare PR Campaign As Dems Lose Their Cool and Town Halls Turn Into "Town Hells"; and now, "Another Dem Skewered at Town Hall Over Healthcare Takeover / Voters Urge Dem Rep Driehaus to "Tell the Truth!" About Government-Run Plan."

In a separate press release, NRCC communications director Ken Spain also said: "Democrats have gone from blaming Republican obstruction, to the insurance industry, to Matt Drudge, and now they are even blaming the voters who are registering their opposition at town halls across the country. At what point are they going to get the message that people simply don't want a government takeover of healthcare and that they have misinterpreted their mandate from the American people?"

Check out an example of one of the messages, after the jump.

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Media Matters is now accusing CNN of cowardice, saying that CNN has refused to run their new attack ad against Lou Dobbs and his recent promotion of Birtherism.

"This seems like the actions of a network desperate to provide cover for its primetime host rather than living up to its standard of being the most trusted name in news," said Eric Burns, president of Media Matters, in a press release. "If the ad is accurate -- and we know that it is -- then there is no reason for CNN to block it from its airwaves."

When contacted by TPM, a representative for CNN had no comment about the Media Matters press release.

The Cash for Clunkers program "has been an unqualified success," and the stimulus is working, Vice President Biden said today.

He spoke to reporters after a meeting with several of the administration's economic officials, including Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers; Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget; Larry Summers, head of the National Economic Council and Chief Economist and Economic Policy Advisor to the Vice President Jared Bernstein. He took no questions.

Here's the full transcript:

We've just finished a briefing with the economic team about the impact and role of the Recovery Act in the more optimistic projections that are being -- that we're seeing. Six months ago we gathered here in the White House, worrying about the U.S. economy and whether or not it was falling off a cliff. And today, analysts are trying to determine if -- if an official recovery is already underway, or to quote my good friend Larry Summers, he said, "Six months ago we were talking about whether or not this recession was going to turn into a depression. And now today, we're sitting here talking about whether or not -- not when, not if, but when the recession will turn into a recovery."

So it's a significant change in the last six months. And that's because we are -- we're starting to see some signs of stabilization in key parts of the economy. In the final quarter of last year and the first quarter of this year, the loss rate of GDP was around 6 percent. And in the most recent quarter, GDP fell a much lower rate at 1 percent. And many economists, many economists -- left, right, and center -- have attributed this in large part to the Recovery Act, one piece of the three-pronged approach that the administration has put together to get this economy moving again.

The Recovery Act was designed to do three things. It's been mischaracterized, intentionally and unintentionally, by a lot of people. It really has three pieces to it. First is rescue, the second is recovery, and the third is reinvestment.

Now, you know, there's now evidence that it's accomplished the goals it set out to do, or on the way of accomplishing those goals. After falling the prior six months, state and local spending has increased 2.4 percent last quarter -- and a very unexpected reversal -- that links directly to the fiscal relief we have provided to the states. Household income has gotten a much needed boost in the last quarter, growing at a yearly rate of almost 5 percent following declines in the previous nine months. And business investment contracted less than expected as confidence is slowly -- slowly returning to the economy.

Americans are now confident enough that with certain incentives they're willing to start to go out and spend again. For example, the tax credit for new home buyers has helped stabilize sales and prices of new and existing homes, giving it a boost to, an incentive to -- over 250,000 families have gone out there and purchased a new home without reliance on unsound credit practices of the past.

And the Cash for Clunkers program has been an unqualified success. It has boosted demand for cars and spurred consumer spending. And our critics say they don't think this program is helping. Well, all the economic indicia point to the opposite direction -- it is helping. I think it would be hard to tell the young family who just bought their first home because of the tax credit or the thousands of people who have just traded in gas guzzlers for more efficient cars that this is having no impact.

Now, don't get me wrong -- we still have a long way to go. "Less bad" is not the same as "good." We know that growth in GDP is necessary but not sufficient. It's not a sufficient marker of recovery. For one thing, it's not going to occur until there are jobs. My grandpop used to have the expression, he said, when the guy up the line is out of work, it's an economic slowdown; when you're brother-in-law is out of work, it's a recession; when you're out of work, it's a depression. Well, it's still a serious problem for millions of unemployed Americans. Too many people are out of work. Too many families are in pain. And when that's no longer the case, that's when we will have recovery.

But I can tell you today without reservation: The Recovery Act is working. And when we do recover, when we finish rebuilding, when we finish rescuing the thousands of people -- tens of thousands of people who have fallen into a black hole without our help with unemployment insurance and COBRA and FMAP and the like, when we finish this process we also will have been in the process of having, through the Recovery Act, begun to lay the platform for a much stronger, more stable economy in the investments that we're making through this Recovery Act.

So let me conclude by saying that I think -- and it's a fairly widespread and widely held view -- that the Recovery Act is working, it was necessary, it continues to be necessary, and we're going to see to it we execute the remaining portion of the act with the same kind of fidelity (inaudible).

Thank you very much.

Yesterday, I reported that the anti-health care reform group Conservatives for Patients Rights was enlisting tea party protesters to attend and disrupt health care town halls hosted by members of Congress in their regions.

Today, CPR--which is headed by disgraced hospital executive Rick Scott, and has enlisted the message men behind the Swift Boat campaign--has acknowledged their behind-the-scenes role in the outbursts.

Spokesman Brian Burgess tells Greg Sargent that CPR is distributing "town hall alert" flyers to people on its mailing lists and is reaching out to third party groups via online list serv.

Perhaps the most significant of these discussion groups is the called Tea Party Patriots, which is managed by Tom Gaitens, a field organizer for the industry-funded lobbying organization FreedomWorks. Members of this list serve were not only supplied with list of town hall forums, but with a strategy document outlining the same disruptive techniques we're seeing play out at health care public forums around the country.

The disclosure makes official what much of the reporting about the disruptions seemed to indicate: that industry funded groups--who stand to benefit if health reform legislation fails--are playing a significant role in organizing, and perhaps ginning up, the outbursts we're seeing at health care public forums around the country.

The Democratic field to go up against Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is now shrinking, with 2008 nominee El Tinklenberg announcing that he has dropped out of the race in order to avoid a messy Democratic contest.

This could be a sign of the party circling around state Senate assistant majority leader Tarryl Clark, who got in the race in the past couple weeks. The other remaining Democratic candidate is Maureen Reed, a former University of Minnesota regent and 2006 Independence Party nominee for Lt. Governor, who raised a significant sum of money before Clark got in.

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