WASHINGTON -- A leading Republican senator sharply assailed the White Houseon Wednesday for its request for supporters to help track "fishy" claims about President Barack Obama's plans to overhaul healthcare.
"I am not aware of any precedent for a president asking American citizens to report their fellow citizens to the White House for pure political speech that is deemed 'fishy' or otherwise inimical to the White House's political interests," John Cornyn of Texas wrote to President Barack Obama.
"As Congress debates healthcare reform and other critical policy matters, citizen engagement must not be chilled by fear of government monitoring the exercise of free speech rights," he wrote.
Cornyn was responding to a message on Tuesday from Obama's director of new media, Macon Phillips, who asked on an official White House blog for members of the public to forward questionable claims to the administration.
"There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation," Phillips said.
"Since we can't keep track of all of them here at the White House, we're asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to email@example.com," said Philips.
Cornyn, who also leads the Republican effort to expand its 40-seat minority in the Senate, asked how the White House would use the information collected, what actions if any the White House would take against citizens linked to "fishy" claims, and whether they would be told about being flagged.
"I can only imagine the level of justifiable outrage had your predecessor asked Americans to forward emails critical of his policies to the White House," Cornyn wrote, referring to former president George W. Bush.
"I suspect that you would have been leading the charge in condemning such a program - and I would have been at your side denouncing such heavy-handed government action," he wrote.
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