Rachel Maddow Slams Dick Armey for Stirring Up Hate in Town Halls

On Sunday's Meet the Press, Rachel Maddow took on Dick Armey for his role in the violent town hall protests.

David Gregory:  This morning, a special hour-long discussion making sense of health care.  What are the issues at the center of the debate?  How would reform affect your health care?  Separating fact from fiction in the fight. And what does it mean politically for President Obama?  With us:  former House majority leader Republican Dick Armey, now the head of FreedomWorks, a major organizer of protesters at town hall meetings; Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a medical doctor and member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; former Senate majority leader Democrat Tom Daschle, an informal adviser to the White House and author of “Critical:  What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis”; and Rachel Maddow, host of MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.” Plus, additional perspectives from around the country:  the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Charlie Rangel of New York; Bruce Josten, executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce; and Democratic Governor Bill Ritter of Colorado.

But first, making sense of healthcare reform, for the entire hour.  And welcome to our panel here.  You know, the president wrote on the op-ed page of The New York Times today that this is the great debate for America right now. And I think what the public also wants is a civil and informative debate, which is what I think we’re going to have this morning.  I want to talk in just a few minutes about three major areas of contention in this healthcare debate.  But first I do want to talk about the anger, the emotion and the fear that is out there.

And, Senator Daschle, let me begin with you.  All of these town halls, have they altered or derailed the chance for reform this year?

Fmr. Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD):  David, I think it’s actually been a good thing.  I think that it’s drawn even greater focus on the issue.  You’ve got President Obama out there in places all over the country talking and trying to set the record straight.  Obviously, these are emotional issues.  This is the noise of democracy.  You ask 300 million people what they ought to do about health care and you’re going to get a lot of different ideas, some of them very deeply emotional.  But the bottom line is I think this really does help a lot, goes a long way.

David Gregory: But it helps, it doesn’t hurt. You really believe that it doesn’t hurt?

Sen. Daschle:  I—well, obviously there are—the misinformation hurts. Obviously if you, if you provoke fear, that hurts.  But the opportunity that we have to set the record straight, to keep the focus on the issue, to recognize that there are millions of people out there who don’t have health care, to recognize that there are so many people out there that, that are left out, 12 million people have been, have been discriminated against because they have an illness.  We’ve got huge cost problems, huge quality problems.  And this is our opportunity really to lay the record straight, to put the focus where it belongs and to, and to get this job done for the first time in 70 years.

David Gregory:  All right.  But let’s talk about the tone of the debate.  There have been death threats against members of Congress, there are Nazi references to members of Congress and to the president.  Here are some of the images. The president being called a Nazi, his reform effort being called Nazi-like, referring to Nazi Germany, members of Congress being called the same.  And then there was this image this week outside of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a town hall event that the president had, this man with a gun strapped to his leg held that sign, “It is time to water the tree of liberty.” It was a reference to that famous Thomas Jefferson quote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” That has become a motto for violence against the government.  Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, had that very quote on his shirt the day of the bombing of the Murrah building when 168 people were killed.

Senator Coburn, you are from Oklahoma.  When this element comes out in larger numbers because of this debate, what, what troubles you about that?

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK):  Well, I’m, I’m troubled anytime when we, we stop having confidence in, in our government.  But we’ve earned it.  You know, this debate isn’t about health care.  Health care’s the symptom.  The debate is an uncontrolled federal government that’s going to run--50 percent of everything we’re spending this year we’re borrowing from the next generation.  You...

David Gregory:  That’s—but wait, hold on, I want to stop you there.  I’m talking about the tone.  I am talking about violence against the government. That’s what this is synonymous with.

Sen. Coburn:  The, the—but the tone is based on fear of loss of control of their own government.  What, what is the genesis behind people going to such extreme statements?  What is it?  We, we have lost the confidence, to a certain degree, and it’s much worse than when Tom was the, the, the leader of the Senate.  We have, we have raised the question of whether or not we’re legitimately thinking about the American people and their long-term best interests.  And that’s the question.  The, the mail volume of all the senators didn’t go up based on the healthcare debate, the mail volume went up when we started spending away our future indiscriminately.  And that’s not Republican or Democrat, that has been a problem for years.  But it’s exacerbated now that we’re in the kind of financial situation and economic situation.

David Gregory:Congressman Armey, FreedomWorks, your organization, advocacy organization getting together a lot of folks, coordinating a lot of the efforts to get people out for the protests.  Do you bear some responsibility for the tone of the debate?

Fmr. Rep. Dick Armey (R-TX):  Not, not whatsoever.  Not when you see the kind of extreme thing you just saw, the—you know, I had my differences with President Bush, George W.  Bush, there’s no doubt about it.  They were well aware of that.  But when ran those ads that compared President Bush with, with Adolf Hitler, I thought it was despicable.

Rachel Maddow:  They never did that.

Rep. Armey:  They did do it.  I’ll show you the ad.

Rachel Maddow:  They didn’t do that.  They never ran an ad that compared...

Rep. Armey:  All right.  Anyway.  All right.

Rachel Maddow:  MoveOn never ran an ad that compared Bush to Hitler.

Rep. Armey:  All right.

David Gregory:  Well, hold on, hold on.  Finish your thought and then...

Rep. Armey:  What, what, what, you’re going to get your chance to talk. Well, I, I, I just looked at the ad again this morning, and it, it was a horrible thing.  You know, it’s horrible to see this.  But I have had town hall meetings since 1984.  There are always a lot of colorful people that show up with town hall meetings, a lot of people with a lot of colorful statements.  When FreedomWorks encourages people to go to town hall meetings, we encourage them to go and make their points clearly, assertively and with good manners.  So I’m not—I don’t know who these folks are.  We certainly bear no responsibility for...

David Gregory:  But you say good manners; the, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, wrote an op-ed this week during which she said, “Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American.  Drowning out the facts”...

Rep. Armey:  Well...

David Gregory:  ...”drowning out the facts is how we failed at this effort for many decades.” Un-American, Rachel?


Rep. Armey:  Well...

Rachel Maddow: I—well, I, I think that anytime you’re trying to stop discussion, I think that’s un-American.  But I, I mean, I take issue with the idea that the government has done anything to earn the kind of threats of violence that we have seen.

Sen. Coburn:  I didn’t say that.

Rachel Maddow:  Well, you—well, David, I...

Sen. Coburn:  What I, what I said is what—it is indicative of the loss of confidence.  And when people are afraid, they do all sorts of things that they normally wouldn’t do.

David Gregory:  All right.

Rachel Maddow:  I don’t think...

Sen. Coburn:  And we have undermined, by our actions—whether it be earmarking and corruption and, and disconnection between integrity and character in what we do and what the people expect, and this—these are just symptoms...

Rachel Maddow:  But whether...

Sen. Coburn:  ...of a lack of confidence in what we’re doing.

David Gregory:  Go ahead, Rachel.

Rachel Maddow:  Whether or not, whether or not the government has acted in a way that you feel is defensible, I don’t think the government has done anything to earn, in your words, the, the, the threat of—that the blood of tyrants must run in the streets, which is what the literal threat was from that man with the gun strapped to, strapped to his leg in New Hampshire.  I also don’t think that, that there is an equivalence between what has done and with the comparisons of the president to Hitler that we’ve seen so often in this debate.  I mean, some of the major organizations who are organizing these events, like Americans for Prosperity, a group that has some similarities to FreedomWorks but definitely a different group, they’ve had speakers going around the country not only comparing healthcare reform to Hitler, but comparing them to Pol Pot and Stalin, saying “Put the fear of God into your members of Congress.” I don’t think the government has done anything to earn that.

David Gregory:  Congressman:

Rep. Armey:  Well, first of all, I don’t know what Americans for Prosperity has done.  But if in fact they deserve to have fire on their bunker, please, put your fire on their bunker.  I don’t want it on my bunker.  The fact of the matter is we had Nancy Pelosi, within the last six months, stand up before a very vocal and ruckus group and say, you know, “I love disrupters.” Here’s the speaker of the House saying, “I love disrupters.” So the fact of the matter is there’s been some provocation by officially elected people, and that is not, that’s not a happy thing. has been a very aggressive organization. What we believe you should have is people show up, people assertively answer the very difficult questions and for people to be well mannered.

Now, I’d like to go on something that Doc Coburn...

David Gregory:  All right, but that—just, you have to admit, the notion that people are being well mannered is not happening.

Rep. Armey:  That, that may not—that may be with some people.

David Gregory:  All right.

Rep. Armey:  I’m appalled by what I see, too, by some people.

David Gregory:  All right.

Rep. Armey:  But for anybody to say that Dick Armey is...

David Gregory:  So, so you repudiate the Nazi imagery.  The Nazi imagery and all of that, you repudiate that.

Rep. Armey:  Absolutely, I repudiate it.

David Gregory:  That has no place in the debate.

Rep. Armey:  I—as I said, I repudiated it when did it to George Bush.  Did anybody here at this table repudiate it?

Rachel Maddow:  You remember a...

Rep. Armey:  We’ve just heard that it was all right when MoveOn did it.

Rachel Maddow:That’s not true.  They never ran an ad that said it.

Rep. Armey:  But it is not all right when anybody does it.

Rachel Maddow: The Tea Party Patriots is an organization that your organization is a member of a coalition with.  It’s called the Tea Party Patriots Health Care Freedom Coalition partner.  That’s what Freedoms Work***(as spoken)***is, that’s what Americans for Prosperity is.  If you go to Tea Party Patriots right now, what they’ve got on their front page of their Web site, the top item, is a video showing the violence at the town hall in Ybor City, in Tampa, Florida, essentially promoting that as if that was a good thing that happened, that showed what the Health Care Freedom Coalition wants to have done in the healthcare debate.  FreedomWorks is part of that coalition.

Rep. Armey:  Right.

Rachel Maddow:  You can say that you denounce it, but the organization that you head is part of it.

Rep. Armey:  Listen, this—one of the fascinating things, by the way, about the Tea Party, Tea Party movement, it is, it is an enormously impressive grassroot uprising across the country, loosely affiliated people, and there’s probably a hundred, 200 different Web sites by different people.  Somebody in Oregon’s got one, somebody in Illinois.  We’ve got a situation with somebody in Connecticut that we did not know and who did not know us put out something that was mischaracterized and then attributed to us by somebody who obviously didn’t have enough diligence in their ability to do their research to get their facts straight.  These things happen.

David Gregory:  Right.

Rep. Armey:  People get blamed for what other people do.

David Gregory:  Beyond, beyond the...

Rep. Armey:  But the fact is, that just causes further aggravation. The—especially when you start talking about elected officials, people that have the privilege of having news shows under the license granted by the federal government.  They should at least have the adult discipline to get their facts correct.

Rachel Maddow:  Are you a member of the Tea Party Patriots Health Care Freedom Coalition?

Rep. Armey:  I’m a member of FreedomWorks, and FreedomWorks works with many people who fight for and, and argue on behalf of individual liberty.

David Gregory:  All right, I want to move on.  One of the issues here is inaccuracies, myths in the debate.  What has dominated this week is this idea of death panels being part of the healthcare reform effort, the idea that somehow the government would countenance euthanasia against older Americans who are close to death.  And even Chuck Grassley, senator from Iowa, a Republican senator from Iowa who is negotiating healthcare reform on the Senate Finance Committee, said this during an event on Wednesday.

(Videotape, Wednesday)

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA):  In the House bill there’s counseling for end of life.

Offscreen Voice:  That’s it.

SEN. GRASSLEY:  And from that standpoint, you have every right to fear.  You should—you shouldn’t have counseling at the end of life.  You ought to have counseling 20 years before you’re going to die.  We should not have a government program that determines you’re going to pull the plug on grandma.

(End videotape)

David Gregory:  “Pull the plug on grandma.” That’s not part of this debate. It’s not in the bill, Senator.

Sen. Daschle:  Well, David, it’s hyperbolic, it’s fearmongering, it’s actually politics at its worst.  That’s the kind of thing that generates the kind of anger and fear and anxiety that people have today.  You know, it’s, it’s amazing to me that a very good idea, one I’m sure that maybe even all of us agree with, that there ought to be some consultation, some opportunity to talk about these things outside of that moment when you’re at your most emotionally vulnerable state in life.  And, and, you know, the amazing thing is—and Johnny Isakson, a, a member of the, the Health Committee, actually offered as a mandatory requirement that there be this mandatory counseling. He—as it turns out, it, it was, it—they, they persuaded him to offer it as a voluntary measure.  But that voluntary counseling is something that we ought to be encouraging, not discouraging.

David Gregory:  And in fact, Senator Coburn, the prescription drug bill that the Republican Congress passed back in 2003 had a similar provision, did it not?

Sen. Coburn:  I don’t know.  I wasn’t in Congress in 2003, so I’m not familiar with that.  But I was adamantly opposed to the prescription drug bill, mainly because it added $10 trillion to our grandkids’ debt.

David Gregory:  Right.

Sen. Coburn:  Look, the, the idea that we ought to talk about our future health and what our family and what we want done is a good idea, it’s legitimate.  What is not legitimate is having government even weigh in on it. It is intensely personal; your health care, your plans, your family.  There is no role for government in that.  And where we’ve seen a role—and, and this happens all the time, which goes to one of the things that never gets talked about in health care—is we have statements, living wills.  We have people who have made those very tough decisions.  And then, because they’ve made them, but because of the malpractice situation and liability, they’re ignored.  And we still intubate and put people onto ventilators that never wanted it because a family member threatens through a situation, even though you have that end of life counseling there.  So the—we need to get down to the basics of what’s really wrong with health care, and there’s a lot.  And it’s not the people who are complaining about it and it’s not the people who are debating it.  The fact is, is we—everybody wants to see some change.  Republicans want to see change, we just want to get there in a different way.  But the fact is, is we have a way too expensive healthcare system.  It is one of the best in the world, and we ought to see about changing.

David Gregory:  And you want a reasonable debate?

Sen. Coburn:  Absolutely.

David Gregory:  You said, however—this was a headline from The Washington Times, July 16th:  “Coburn:  Dem health plan will kill Americans.” Really?

Sen. Coburn:  It will.  Absolutely.

David Gregory:  Is that reasonable?

Sen. Coburn:  There’s—yes, it is reasonable.  That is—look, who—I still practice medicine almost every Monday, David.  I see patients.  How many people that are involved in this debate are actually in the healthcare system? Very few.  The fact is, is if you create a comparative effectiveness board, which there’s no question 70 percent of the people it will help, and it will help control costs, but 30 percent of the people it’s going to hurt.

Sen. Daschle:  David, we can’t...

Sen. Coburn:  Because we’re not—we’re not going to use...

Sen. Daschle:  That’s—you cannot, you can’t—Jim, you can’t make that assertion.

Sen. Coburn:  We’re not going to use the art of medicine.  We’re not going...

Sen. Daschle:  You just can’t allow that assertion to be made, because...

Sen. Coburn:  Well, we can.  Let’s look at the NICE system.

Sen. Daschle:  Listen, this is the recommendation.

David Gregory:  Well, let’s end it...

Sen. Daschle:  Mayo Clinic—you’re saying Mayo Clinic, 30 people, 30 percent of the people at Mayo Clinic are, are disadvantaged because they have comparative effectiveness?

Sen. Coburn:  No, they, they—no, they do not.

Sen. Daschle:  Yes, they do.

Sen. Coburn:  Yes, they do.  But they don’t apply that in the same way that this plan.

Sen. Daschle:  And they, and they—and same with Intermountain, same with Geisinger.  The best institutions in the country, David, use comparative effectiveness and everybody benefits.  And to Jim’s point about the fact that, that we can’t have government involved with some kind of consultation, government runs the Medicare program.  The Medicare program covers virtually every senior in the country today.  If you’re not going to have the government do it through Medicare, who is going to do it?  You can’t simply just say go, go try to find a way to do it.  We know the status quo is a disaster.  What Jim is arguing for is more status quo, and we can’t accept that.

Read the rest of the transcript of this episode of Meet the Press here.

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