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Tea party, GOP condemn health care protesters' slurs

| Monday, March 22, 2010

WASHINGTON — Republican Party officials and tea party protest organizers Sunday condemned health care demonstrators who hurled racial and homophobic slurs at black and gay lawmakers Saturday at the Capitol.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, appearing Sunday morning on NBC, called the actions by some protesters "reprehensible" and maintained that they were isolated incidents that shouldn't reflect on tea party participants as a whole. Amy Kremer, coordinator of the Tea Party Express, agreed.

"I absolutely think it's isolated," Kremer told Fox News. "It's disgraceful and the people in this movement won't tolerate it because that's not what we're about."

The denunciations occurred amid more confrontations between supporters and opponents yesterday as the House prepared to vote on what would be the most sweeping overhaul of the nation's health care system in two generations.

Protesters of all stripes gathered at the south entrance to the Capitol, through which House members drive. On one side, those opposed to health care chanted "kill the bill." On the other side, supporters of the legislation chanted "health care now."

Crowds that assembled in support of immigration overhaul legislation added to the mix.

Inside the Capitol, six Capitol Police officers subdued an unruly protester who had managed to make to the House visitors' gallery. He was wrestled out.

"Things are colliding today," said Maria Robalino, 35, of Washington, who was carrying a purple "Catholics for Healthcare Reform" sign.

Saturday's demonstrations turned ugly when opponents of the health bill confronted members of Congress with racial slurs and homophobic taunts.

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a civil rights icon and a 12-term congressman, said demonstrators shouted a racial epithet at him as he walked out of a House office building. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., a United Methodist Church minister and a former two-term mayor of Kansas City, Mo., said protesters spat at him Saturday. Cleaver's office said the U.S. Capitol Police arrested someone in connection with the incident, but Cleaver declined to press charges.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., one of three openly gay members of Congress, said he endured anti-gay slurs by a group of protesters.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., condemned the incidents Saturday night.

"Members of Congress and opinion leaders ought to come to terms with their responsibility for inciting the tone and actions we saw (Saturday)," Hoyer said in a written statement. "A debate that began with false fears of forced euthanasia has ended in a truly ugly scene. It is incumbent on all of us to do better next time."

Frank blamed House Republicans for the incident in the House visitors' gallery.

"You have dozens of Republicans standing and applauding a guy disrupting ... screaming," Frank said. "It's a dangerous situation, and Republicans are cheering him on."

One Republican congressman, however, said the fault lay with the way the Democrats were trying to pass the health care overhaul.

"When you use totalitarian tactics, people begin to act crazy," said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

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