WASHINGTON — The House's top two Democrats on Monday called some of the behavior of health care overhaul opponents "simply un-American." The White House disagreed.
Protesters have disrupted town-hall meetings held by lawmakers, in some cases shouting down speakers at the events. Police have had to intervene and videos of the events have circulated widely on YouTube and cable news.
"These disruptions are occurring because opponents are afraid not just of differing views – but of the facts themselves," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland. "Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American. Drowning out the facts is how we failed at this task for decades."
A White House spokesman didn't directly respond when asked what the president thought of the comments, published in an opinion piece in USA Today.
"The president thinks that if people want to come and have a spirited debate about health care, a real vigorous conversation about it, that's a part of the American tradition and he encourages that, because people do have questions and concerns," spokesman Bill Burton told reporters.
"Now, if you just want to come to a town hall so that you can disrupt and so that you can scream over another person, he doesn't think that that's productive," Burton said.
There was an immediate response to Pelosi and Hoyer from House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
"To label Americans who are expressing vocal opposition to the Democrats' plan 'un-American' is outrageous and reprehensible," Boehner said in a statement.
Pelosi and Hoyer contended that the protests were an "ugly campaign" meant to misrepresent health overhaul legislation before Congress as well as disrupt public meetings.
Democratic leaders have argued that the protests have been ginned up by the Republican Party and national conservative and industry groups. National and local conservative groups as well as the insurance industry are encouraging people to attend the town hall events, but many activists at the events have said they're motivated by real concerns about the health care plans.
Meanwhile labor unions and the Democratic Party are encouraging their supporters to go to town hall and other events to support President Barack Obama's health overhaul agenda.