The Democratic lawmaker mounting a primary challenge against Sen. Arlen Specter said Sunday that the protests being mounted against healthcare legislation across the country are fair expressions of opposition and that his party should not be backing down from them.
Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania told Fox News that Democrats should be organizing their own efforts to get their message out, not criticize the demonstrators making their voices heard at town hall meetings.
"I like these town halls, and I cherish them actually," he said. "This bill is so important to the future that we should be having tough debates."
Sestak said Democrats need to do a better job explaining the "goodness" of the legislation.
Sestak’s message runs counter to House leaders, who have called the demonstrations “orchestrated” and likened participants to Nazis. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi alleged that the demonstrators were toting “swastikas,” though no evidence has emerged of that.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Americans with "honest questions" about health care reform are being squeezed out by the anti-healthcare demonstrators.
"This is clearly being orchestrated and these folks have instructions," he said on CNN's "State of the Union," adding that it's not right for those who are part of that movement to disrupt the meetings.
"When there are a group of people honestly sitting in the middle trying to ask the important questions and get the right answers, and instead someone takes the microphone and screams and shouts to the point where the meeting comes to an end, that isn't dialogue, that isn't the democratic process," Durbin said. "You know, we need to respect free speech, but we need to respect one another's rights to free speech too. When these people come in just to disrupt the meetings, no, that isn't right."
But Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said lawmakers "should not fear" the meetings during the August recess.
"What we should be doing in August is engaging our constituents," she told Fox News.
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