Tea Partiers to storm Capitol Hill in last-minute protest of health-care bill

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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The goal is to speak to someone — anyone — other than a congressional member’s receptionist. And thanks to a memo from Democratic leadership, Tea Partiers may not only make it past the front desk, but also get a cup of coffee.

Tea Party activists will storm Capitol Hill this morning, spending the day rallying and protesting against President Obama’s health-care bill and demanding meetings with targeted members. Former Republican leader Dick Armey, whose FreedomWorks is an organizer of the day’s events, said the Tea Partiers will be a reminder to members that a vote for health care could doom them in the polls in November.

“The fact of the matter is these folks — they got Nancy Pelosi saying, ‘You either give me your vote or something bad is going to happen to you,’ and … real voters in their district saying, ‘You give Nancy Pelosi that vote and something worse is going to happen to you,” Armey told The Daily Caller, referencing members of congress weighing their decision.

Brendan Steinhauser, a FreedomWorks organizer involved in the logistics of today’s events, said, “The focus is to get people to offices.”

“They’ll definitely be up and down the hallways of Congress,” he said. “They’ll be finding congressmen in the cafeterias, seeing them outside on the street, going in and setting up appointments with staff.”

The Tea Party Patriots group is also helping coordinate the effort that begins at 9 a.m. on the East Capitol Lawn across from Cannon House Office Building. Organizers say they expect thousands to hit the halls of Congress as well as the local district offices to warn members not to vote for the bill.

Tea Party Express is holding a 10 a.m. rally at Taft Park, located on the Senate side of the Capitol. Spokesman Levi Russell said the event will feature Republicans Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina and Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia.

In an e-mail, Tea Party Patriots coordinators instruct activists to bring handwritten letters when they visit the offices of both their own representatives, as well as targeted members of the Blue Dog Coalition of 54 conservative Democrats, who may be the deciding factor on whether the bill passes.

Getting past the front desk of the member’s office is the goal, the e-mail states. Activists, in the e-mail, are told to first ask to speak with the representative, but to ask for the chief of staff or health-care adviser if the member isn’t available.

FreedomWorks chief executive Matt Kibbe said smart members will take meetings with the activists who storm the halls.

“I use to work on the Hill, and I think the stupidest thing you can do is refuse to talk to your constituents regardless of what the issue is,” he said. “There’s a lot of goodwill created simply by showing up at a town hall meeting. Even if people are yelling at you for three hours, it’s your job.”

In a memo sent out Monday by the Democratic leadership to the party’s freshman and sophomore members but obtained by The Daily Caller, representatives are told to be hospitable to the “tens of thousands of conservative and Tea Party activists” and put out snacks, water and coffee for them (no word on whether tea will be served as well).

“Many of the conservative activists are not opposing the actual provisions in the bill, but are instead reacting to a caricature of the reform bill presented by right-wing media outlets,” the memo reads. “In fact, many conservative and GOP ideas and concerns are addressed in the legislation.”

Members are also told to meet with attendees in small groups and bring in extra chairs to accommodate the visitors.

“Also, don’t assume common myths about this bill have been debunked. Be prepared to explain that there are no death panels, that Medicare is in fact strengthened, and that reform is not a government take-over, but it is an attempt to crack down on the abusive practices of health insurance companies by providing oversight and increasing competition,” the document says.

Steinhauser said organizers expect “anywhere from 1,000 to 2-4,000” on the Hill, but said he’s unsure how many will actually show up since the event has mostly been advertised through Twitter and Facebook and has been organized only within the last several days.