WASHINGTON - A veteran U.S. senator said Wednesday he thinks people who have been angrily disrupting public meetings on overhauling the health care system are "not necessarily representative of America," but should be heard.
"It's more than health care," said Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, 79, who earlier this year left the Republican Party and became a Democrat. "I think there is a mood in America of anger with so many people unemployed, with so much bickering in Washington ... with the fear of losing their health care. It all boils over."
Spectre and Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, appeared on a nationally broadcast news show Wednesday, a day after town hall meetings they hosted erupted in the same kind of catcalls, jeers and shouting that has characterized many such forums in recent weeks. "There were a couple of tough moments," McCaskill said of her experience, "but it lasted two hours and there were thousands of people there."
Jeers and taunts drowned out both Specter and McCaskill on occasion Tuesday. President Barack Obama was treated more respectfully at his town hall meeting in New Hampshire.
"You'll be gone, by God the bureaucrats will still be here," one man told Specter at a session in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
"If they don't let us vent our frustrations out, they will have a revolution," Mary Ann Fieser of Hillsboro, Missouri, told McCaskill at her Missouri health care forum. McCaskill admonished the rowdy crowd, saying "I don't understand this rudeness. I honestly don't get it."
The bitter sessions underscored the challenge for the Obama administration as it tries to win over an increasingly skeptical public on the costly and far-reaching task of revamping the U.S. health care system. Desperate to stop a hardening opposition, the White House created a Web site to dispel what it says are smears and House Democrats set up a health care "war room" out of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office to help lawmakers handle questions.
Spectre , who had another such forum scheduled Wedneday at State College, Pennsylvania, said he had been "impressed with the fact that people have been very well prepared." He said many have come to meetings with copies of the legislation and have cited specific provisions in their arguments.
"These people have a right to be organized," the senator said on CBS's "The Early Show."
"I'm not going to complain about being organized. They have a right to speak," he said, "but I think we have to explain, they're not necessarily representative of America. I think they're vocal. I don't think they're representative."
Spectre said he didn't think people opposed to various health care proposals have a right to disrupt public meetings on the issue.
Obama answered his critics indirectly. At his town hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he urged Americans to ignore those who try to "scare and mislead the American people," telling a cordial audience, "For all the scare tactics out there, what is truly scary is if we do nothing."
McCaskill said she was "proud of the people that showed up and I don't take that personally."
"It's that they don't trust government right now," she said on NBC's "Today" show.
"It wasn't the majority of the audience, it was a huge chunk of them," she said. "But I get that distrust. There's a lot of cynicism out there and it's important that I get out there and listen to that."
Many people "have a lot of pent-up frustration about what has happened over the past six months because it's come fast and furious," McCaskill said.