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Profile: Russ Carnahan
Russ Carnahan was a participant or observer in the following events:
Lawmakers in Congress complain that restrictions on their discussion of upcoming appropriations bills make it almost impossible to conduct appropriate oversight on those bills. The House votes 327 to 96 to authorize an appropriations bill to fight the administration’s war on terror, but only about a dozen members have actually read the bill. Rules adopted by the Republican leadership of both houses in concert with the White House (see February 1, 2004) allow lawmakers to read the bills, but prohibit discussing the contents of those bills, even if that information has already been leaked to the press, under penalty of criminal prosecution and expulsion from Congress. “It’s a trap,” says Representative Russ Carnahan (D-MO), referring to the restrictions on discussing the bill. “Either way, you’re flying blind.” Carnahan’s colleague, Walter Jones (R-NC) agrees: “We ought to be doing a better job on oversight, [but] if you’re not going to be able to question it or challenge it, that makes it difficult.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 117]
The Internet news site Politico reports on the quickly escalating confrontations occurring at “town hall” meetings held around the country, featuring conservative protesters agitating against the White House’s health care reform proposals (see Late July, 2009). Reporter Alex Isenstadt writes: “Screaming constituents, protesters dragged out by the cops, congressmen fearful for their safety—welcome to the new town hall-style meeting, the once-staid forum that is rapidly turning into a house of horrors for members of Congress.” The meetings, held by Democratic House members attempting to discuss the health care proposals with their constituents, have quickly devolved into confrontational events disrupted by shouting, cursing protesters waving signs and shouting down speakers, often before they can begin speaking.
Other Methods to Discuss Issue with Constituents - After one such meeting (see June 22, 2009), House member Tim Bishop (D-NY) says he will not hold more town halls until late August. “I had felt they would be pointless,” he says. “There is no point in meeting with my constituents and [to] listen to them and have them listen to you if what is basically an unruly mob prevents you from having an intelligent conversation.” He adds: “I have no problem with someone disagreeing with positions I hold. But I also believe no one is served if you can’t talk through differences.” Other Democrats such as Bruce Braley (D-IA), Allen Boyd (D-FL), and Thomas Perriello (D-VA) have experienced similar incidents at their own town hall meetings. Isenstadt characterizes the meetings as plagued by “boiling anger and rising incivility.” Braley explains the heated protests by saying, “I think it’s just the fact that we are dealing with some of the most important public policy issues in a generation.” Bishop notes: “I think in general what is going on is we are tackling issues that have been ignored for a long time, and I think that is disruptive to a lot of people. We are trying, one by one, to deal with a set of issues that can’t be ignored, and I think that’s unsettling to a lot of people.” Dan Maffei (D-NY), whose July 12 meeting at a Syracuse middle school was disrupted, says he is considering other options to avoid the confrontations. “I think you’ve got to communicate through a variety of different ways,” he says. “You should do the telephone town hall meetings. You should do the town hall meetings. You should do the smaller group meetings. It’s important to do things in a variety of ways, so you don’t have one mode of communication. You’re going to have people of varying views, and in this case, you’ve got the two extremes who were the most vocal.” Russ Carnahan (D-MO) says he enjoys the town hall meetings, and will not let disruptions stop him from holding them. Perriello agrees. “I enjoy it, and people have a chance to speak their mind,” he says.
Countering the Protesters - Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), has planned countermethods for the spate of meetings to be held during the August recess. According to sources familiar with the meetings Van Hollen has held, Van Hollen advised his fellow Democrats to “Go on offense. Stay on the offense. It’s really important that your constituents hear directly from you. You shouldn’t let a day go by [that] your constituents don’t hear from you.”
Continuing the Protests - Van Hollen’s Republican counterpart, Pete Sessions (R-TX), who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), says the protests will continue. “We’ve seen Russ Carnahan, we’ve seen Tim Bishop, we’ve seen some other people face some very different crowds back home,” he says. “The days of you having a town hall meeting where maybe 15 or 20 of your friends show up—they’re over. You’ve now got real people who are showing up—and that’s going to be a factor.” Asked if the Republicans would use the confrontations against Democrats, Sessions says, “Wait till next year.”
Possible Backlash? - Democrats warn that Republicans will likely face a backlash in public opinion if the public perceives the party as being too closly aligned with tea party activists or other radical-right protesters. Former DCCC political director Brian Smoot says: “It’s a risk that they align themselves with such a small minority in the party. They risk alienating moderates.” [Politico, 7/31/2009]
Entity Tags: Dan Maffei, Brian Smoot, Allen Boyd, Alex Isenstadt, Chris Van Hollen, Tim Bishop, Russ Carnahan, Bruce Braley, Obama administration, Pete Sessions, National Republican Congressional Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Politico, Thomas Perriello
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Six people, including a local reporter, are arrested outside a public forum called by Representative Russ Carnahan (D-MO) at a middle school gymnasium outside of St. Louis. The forum, planned to allow constituents to discuss aging issues with Carnahan, quickly becomes contentious, with an overflow crowd denied entrance to the gymnasium and left to protest and wave signs in the parking lot. Many of the protesters are from a local anti-tax and anti-health care reform “tea party” organization. Local Democratic organizations counter with their supporters.
Altercations in Parking Lot - Verbal, and later physical, altercations erupt between reform supporters and opponents. Six people are arrested outside the gym, including St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Jake Wagman, for interference after he refuses to stop taking pictures of the altercations. One of those arrested, reform supporter Brian Matthews, calls the situation outside the gym “a bull rush,” and adds, “It all came from behind.” After the forum, Matthews and a friend, Javonne Spitz, attempt to photograph a man who appears as if he has been assaulted. The police object, and, as Matthews tells it, several officers “charge” them “from behind.” The police push Matthews to the ground and arrest him for interference; Spitz is pepper-sprayed “after she was subdued by the police,” Matthews says, causing her to vomit as they are taken into custody. A woman is arrested for assault and destruction of property for pushing a woman who is recording the events on her cell phone, then taking the phone from her and breaking it. A man is arrested for refusing to leave a circle of people surrounding Matthews’s pepper-sprayed friend. A police spokesman later says: “You’ve got to understand—we’re at a very volatile situation, we’ve got 800 people and we’ve got to maintain order. [The police] did what they had to do.” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 8/7/2009; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 8/7/2009]
Kenneth Gladney - Conservative activist Kenneth Gladney claims to have been attacked by several of those arrested as he attempts to hand out yellow flags with “Don’t Tread on Me” printed on them; police later confirm that two men were arrested for assaulting someone attempting to hand out flags and fliers. A reporter interviews Gladney as he awaits treatment at a local emergency room for injuries he says he suffered to his knee, back, shoulder, elbow, and face. Gladney, an African-American, says one of his assailants used a racial slur against him. “It just seems there’s no freedom of speech without being attacked,” he says. Gladney later affirms that he had been hired by the St. Louis Tea Party organization to hand out flags, and adds, “I was attacked for something I believe in.” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 8/7/2009; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 8/7/2009] He appears on several conservative TV and radio shows, including those hosted by Laura Ingraham and Bill O’Reilly, where he tells his interviewers that he was punched in the face by three different people and kicked by a fourth. Unfortunately for his claim, he appears in perfect health on the broadcasts, with no indication of swelling or bruising. [Daily Kos, 8/8/2009] Tim Tagaris, the new media director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), later sends an e-mail and links to photos taken during the altercation which contradict Gladney’s tale. According to Tagaris, the photos show an SEIU member getting off the ground holding his shoulder. Gladney is identified as an African-American male in a khaki (or gray) shirt “walking around just fine after the altercation.” Tagaris says it is only after he begins appearing on talk shows that he takes to a wheelchair (see August 8, 2009). [Daily Kos, 8/9/2009]
Loud Attempts to Protest Health Care Reform - Inside the gym, protesters attempt to turn the discussion from the topic of the elderly to health care, an issue they apparently wish to shout down. “This isn’t even close to civil,” one audience member says after the forum. “The rudeness was beyond compare.” An elderly audience member calls the forum “a complete waste of time.” After the meeting, Carnahan says: “Sadly we’ve seen stories about disrupters around the country, and we have a handful of them here in Missouri. Instead of participating in a civil debate, they have mobilized with special interests in Washington who have lined their pockets by overcharging Americans for a broken health care system.” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 8/7/2009] The next day, Carnahan says: “Sadly, they got out of control on both sides. That’s not helpful, and I condemn that activity.… Let’s have a spirited debate, a debate worthy of our country.” A member of the St. Louis Tea Party who attended another forum, local radio show host Dana Loesch, says: “Last night, it was a whole different scene. That’s not what this should be about.” Defending her colleagues, she adds: “I can’t blame them for being frustrated, but there are ways to handle this without calling these people mobs. This isn’t an angry mob.” SEIU spokeswoman Ramona Oliver says her union has no intention of confronting angry protesters. “The members didn’t come to talk to the angry mob outside, they came to talk to the congresspeople inside,” she says. “All our members want is to have a civil discussion. There is no campaign to confront the tea baggers.” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 8/7/2009]
Entity Tags: Javonne Spitz, Brian Matthews, Dana Loesch, Kenneth Gladney, Jake Wagman, Laura Ingraham, Bill O’Reilly, Tim Tagaris, Russ Carnahan, Service Employees International Union, St. Louis Tea Party, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism
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