President Obama's town hall meeting on healthcare on Tuesday in Portsmouth, N.H., will almost certainly be far less of a free-for-all than the raucous ones that members of Congress have been having, filled with shouting matches, pushing and shoving, and even some arrests.
It is the president's first public healthcare event since the protests at town halls became big news -- and it is happening in the birthplace of the American ideal of town meetings and small-d democracy. (The White House this evening confirmed the start time as 1 p.m. EDT)
As usual for such events, the White House controlled the distribution of the free tickets to get into the gym at Portsmouth High School. And, per usual, the Secret Service will take care of any unruliness.
But that won't stop protestors outside the event.
According to an invitation obtained by NBC News, a group called the New Hampshire Republican Volunteer Coalition is urging members to make sure the other side gets heard and noticed by the media.
"Barack Hussein Obama will be arriving in Portsmouth on Tuesday to hold a STAGED "Town Hall Meeting", where he will essentially hand pick who the guests will be and what types of questions will be asked of him," the call to arms reads. "A MASSIVE protest rally is being organized just outside of the facility where Obama will be holding his 'Town Hall Meeting' to promote his plan for a government takeover of your healthcare decisions."
"There will be news media from all over the world at this event and it will be the ideal opportunity for us to tell the rest of the country exactly how NH voters feel about Obamacare (taxed/rationed healthcare). It will be the most important pro-liberty event of the year in NH and it is critically important that every one of us attend," the invitation continues. "If you can, bring a sign that says something like, 'OBAMACARE=TAXED/RATIONED HEALTHCARE', etc."
Supporters of the Democratic healthcare bills also plan to show their strength outside the town hall.
The AFL-CIO said today that New Hampshire workers "will respectfully make the case for major health care reform and speak out against the ‘mob rule’ tactics of the opposition."
“New Hampshire workers desperately need major health care reform and we will not let our voices be silenced by the corporate funded mobs on the other side,” state AFL-CIO President Mark MacKenzie said in a statement.
Asked about the current discourse at a joint news conference this afternoon at the summit with the leaders of Canada and Mexico, Obama said, "We are having a vigorous debate in the United States, and I think that's a healthy thing."
He repeated that healthcare overhaul is closer than at any time in 40 years and addressing whether there were parts of the more government-heavy Canadian health plan to emulate, said the US must come up with an uniquely American solution.
Opponents, the president said, seem to want to talk about Canadian healthcare.
"I suspect that you Canadians will continue to get dragged in by those who oppose reform, even though I've said nothing about Canadian healthcare reform. I don't find Canadians particularly scary, but I guess some of the opponents of reform think that they make a good bogeyman.
"I think that's a mistake. And I suspect that once we get into the fall and people look at the actual legislation that's being proposed, that more sensible and reasoned arguments will emerge. And we're going to get -- we're going to get this passed."
Speaking of the contentious town halls, Democrats have been complaining that the conservative activists and their Republican allies have been hijacking them.
In an opinion piece in today's USA Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her wingman Representative Steny Hoyer went further, calling the disruptions downright un-American.
"It is now evident that an ugly campaign is underway not merely to misrepresent the health insurance reform legislation, but to disrupt public meetings and prevent members of Congress and constituents from conducting a civil dialogue," they wrote. "These disruptions are occurring because opponents are afraid not just of differing views — but of the facts themselves. Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American."
Republicans strongly dispute that, arguing that opponents are only venting their frustrations and objections to the Democratic bills.
UPDATE: Asked about the town hall, White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton said today that there will be about 1,800 people in the audience, including members of the general public and those who received tickets through members of Congress.
"New Hampshire is a place where people are really feeling the pinch of healthcare reform, and it's a place where he can talk specifically about getting real consumer protections in place, like making sure people can get covered if they have a preexisting condition," Burton said.
"We expect that there will be a vigorous debate, as there have been at plenty of town halls that President Obama has had as president and as candidate, and we look forward to it," Burton told reporters on Air Force One this afternoon.
Asked about Pelosi and Hoyer calling some of the protests "un-American," Burton said, "Well, I think there's actually a pretty long tradition of people shouting at politicians in America. The president thinks that if people want to come and have a spirited debate about health care, a real vigorous conversation about it, that's a part of the American tradition and he encourages that, because people do have questions and concerns."
"Now, if you just want to come to a town hall so that you can disrupt and so that you can scream over another person, he doesn’t think that that's productive," Burton added. "And as a country, we've been able to make progress when people actually talk out what our problems are, not try to shout each other down. So he thinks that we're going to be able to have a constructive conversation tomorrow and he'll continue to do that at the town hall later in the week and throughout this effort."
"There's obviously a lot of passion on one side of this, and that's why people are showing up and screaming. And again he doesn't think that that's constructive. But, you know, there's passion on the other side, too -- the people who want health care reform and who think that it's wrong that health insurance companies can stop you from getting coverage just because you have a preexisting condition, or drop you from coverage just because you get sick," Burton said.
"There's obviously been some orchestration of some of the folks who go out there, but I don't think that that is as important as the fact that, A, there are people who do have legitimate concerns and questions about health care reform and the President wants to have an opportunity to answer those folks and wants members of Congress to have the opportunity to answer those questions, as well. And that's why it's important that when people go to town hall meetings, if you want to have a tussle over an issue, that's fine; but screaming so that you can't hear the answer to whatever the complaint isn't moving the ball forward for anybody."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.