Cheers, jeers and even a punch in the face marked Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and former Democratic National Party Chairman Howard Dean's healthcare town hall meeting at South Lakes High School in Reston Tuesday night.
A crowd of at least 2,500 people included protestors and supporters of the $1.6 trillion House health care bill, but the crescendo from both groups even drowned out a Rabbi's opening prayer. Outside the hall, meanwhile, a man in a Cato Institute T-shirt punched a man wearing an Obama T-shirt in the face after a brief scuffle that police broke up, the Washington Examiner reported.
Inside, Moran opened the meeting by saying that "dissent is as American as apple pie." But after a rabbi's opening prayer and Boy Scout troop's recitation of the pledge of allegiance failed to calm the crowd and the boos and catcalls rose when Dean took to the stage, Moran didn't seem as tolerant.
“I’m sorry but I can’t even hear the governor and I’m sitting next to him. There are hundreds of people in this gymnasium who can't hear him because of a handful of people," Moran said. "These folks are not from the 8th District, they don't really belong here, and I'm going to ask them to leave."
Protestor Randall Terry, who had warned local media he planned to make a ruckus, particularly infuriated the congressman with his screaming accusations that Dean was a “baby killer," Politico reported.
Moran tried to offer Terry a few minutes on the floor, but the founder of anti-abortion group Operation Rescue refused and was forced out of the meeting, to the delight of some in the crowd who chanted, "Kick him out."
The health care bill, which is expected to be voted on in the House after Labor Day, would limit out of pocket expenses on medical bills and prevent private insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions.
During the meeting in Reston, Moran addressed the new government public health option on the bill, which he said will have few frills on it.
"The public option is not going to be a Cadillac insurance plan," he said. "But it will focus on providing access for quality preventative care using the physician of your choice."
President Obama and others in his administration have recently signaled that the public option could be negotiable, as long as it includes a way to increase competition and choice among private insurers.
Nearly 45 million people in the U.S. lack health insurance.