A Florida congressman tried to make sure a health care town hall meeting he hosted Monday night didn't turn into a debate about his recent remarks that Republicans want sick people to "die quickly." He mostly succeeded.
When the House floor speech that's given him national attention came up almost immediately, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson dismissed the subject, saying, "My time is limited tonight and I'm not going to debate politics, I'm going to debate health care."
The first-term congressman then answered a string of questions from people opposed to health care reform, supporters and the undecided. Absent was the over-the-top rhetoric that has made him a YouTube sensation. And the crowd was mostly civil and supportive of the congressman that Republicans accuse of incivility.
But then the subject came up again about half way through 90 minute meeting, and he gave in and explained why two weeks ago he said, "If you get sick, America, the Republican health care plan is this: Die quickly. That's right. The Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick."
Grayson said he was trying to be tongue-in-cheek, but the point he was making was that health care reform is needed to save lives and Republicans aren't offering solutions that save lives. He said health care isn't about being liberal or conservative.
"This bill not only saves huge numbers of American lives, not only saves money, but also brings a certain, I don't know — what's the right word? ... civility to the way we deal with each other," Grayson said.
Grayson has always had a reputation for being brash, but few outside his district, which stretches from Orlando to Ocala, knew who he was until now. Hardcore Democrats are rallying around him. Republicans are just getting sick of him, and they're hoping the attention dies quickly.
"He's not addressing the serious business of the nation, he's simply grandstanding and becoming a clown," said Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer.
Outside the meeting, about 60 people gathered to protest Grayson, many of them holding signs. Among them was Barbara Fabian, a 64-year-old Republican from Tavares who voted for Grayson but has soured on him since his comments late last month.
"At first I thought he was OK," Fabian said. "I really don't think he's using his brain power. I was wrong."
Grayson's "die quickly" remarks have been compared to the shout of "You lie!" made by Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., during President Barack Obama's September speech on health care. Grayson said after Monday's meeting there's no comparison.
"What I did was like a Bob Dylan song and what he did was like a belch, just sort of evacuating his own feelings in the midst of a presidential speech," Grayson said.
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