Tea Party Protesters Swarm the Hill

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There was a moment at today’s tea party protests when an angry crowd of 10,000 stood facing the bulk of the House Republican conference on the steps to the Capitol chanting: “Throw them out!” Members looked at each other nervously, as if saying silently to one another: hopefully they mean throw the Democrats out?

With this group, you never know. These are the folks, along with organizer Rep. Michele Bachmann, who threw their support behind conservative Doug Hoffman in NY23rd district, splitting the vote with the moderate nominated by the NY GOP and handing the seat to the Democrats. The same leaders standing before them today were forced to switch their endorsements from Dede Scozzofava, the moderate Republican, to Hoffman last minute.

Fear of becoming the target of the tiger that is the Tea Party movement is probably why every single one of the dozens of House members did nothing but heap praise and compliments on the crowd. “Your voice is needed today. Frankly, your voice is critical,” said Minority Leader John Boehner. “The town hall rebellion wasn’t about one political party or another. It was a simple statement by Americans that they love their country, they love our way of life, they love the things that America stands for — prosperity, liberty and freedom — and they want nothing more to hand freedom off to their kids and to their grandkids.”

The crowd toted signs like “Abort Obamunism,” “Evangelize the World,” “Stop Assaults on the Constitution,” Tyranny,” “You’re fired” and “Proud to be the Party of Know.” Though the bulk of them were bussed in from nearby states such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, I spoke to one woman who’d driven 12 hours down from Maine and a man who’d flown up from Florida for the occasion.

The demonstration mainly centered on the Democratic House health care reform bill, which could see a vote as early as Saturday. “Kill the bill,” the crowd often chanted throughout the afternoon. A much-abused printed version of the 1,990-page measure, tied with yellow twine, was repeatedly thrown, dropped and kicked by speakers during the rally. And here we have to be careful – the GOP didn’t have a permit for a “rally” so they doggedly referred to the event as a “press conference” throughout the day.

Some came to protest the Democrats’ plan to trim $500 billion from Medicare over the next 10 years. “We’ve already been told that Medicare is bankrupt, where are they going to get the money?” said Linda Nash, a 59-year-old property manager from Bethesda, holding a sign that read, “No Medicare Cuts.”

For others health care was just one symptom of what they see as a cancer spreading through the government known as Democrats. “The shift to the left has been just too big,” said Jim Hoogerwerf, a retired pilot who flew up for the day from his home in Atlanta after he heard Bachmann talk about the rally. When asked if he thought the Republican leaders before him represented the movement, Hoogerwerf, who was holding a sign that read, “Pelosi-care is a Terminal Disease,” shook his head. “I don’t think any body really represents this movement. It’s true grassroots,” he said.

If there were a leader, Bachmann, who got the biggest cheers, would be it. Also popular with the crowd was actor Jon Voigt, who suggested that President Obama has been damaged by his “20 years of programming under the Rev. Wright,” Joe “You lie!” Wilson and Mark Levin, author of “Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto,” who suggested that Democrats are illiterate.

But after and hour and twenty minutes, the crowd grew bored and frustrated of the flattery. The parade of members included every GOP candidate for higher office from Roy Blunt, who’s running for the Senate, to Senator Sam Brownback who’s running for governor of Kansas. “This is not just a photo opportunity!” heckled Jim Patch, a salesman who drove down from New Jersey who stood about 30 feet from the stage. “Say something different!” Patch said he’s frustrated with the “parade of RINO’s – Republicans in name only” and that he’d come today because “we want something done.” When asked which members in particular are RINOs he replied, “Boehner, he doesn’t speak for me. And others, but I don’t want to name them.”

After an hour and 42 minutes Patch finally got his wish to do something – though not from the members. The rally broke up and, at Bachmann’s urging, thousands of protesters descended on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s district offices in the Cannon House Office Building. There they shredded a couple of printouts of Pelosi’s bill, making a carpet of confetti on the floor. Not to be outdone, Pelosi’s usual coterie of lefty protesters from Code Pink lined the hall chanting, “Health care for all.” By the time I left, the Capitol police had arrested 10 people, mostly progressive protesters, though the line of Tea Party activists stretched in front of Cannon several hundred deep.

Walking toward the Capitol a giant rainbow arched overhead. “God is smiling on us,” said a woman nearby. “Just as his will bring his wrath upon Nancy.” Continuing through the Capitol on the second floor I bumped into the Speaker, rushing to cast a vote on extending unemployment insurance benefits. So far as I could tell, she looked thus far unscathed.

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