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White House: Town Halls Should Not Be Violent

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked at his daily briefing this afternoon about recent disruptions by a small number of Americans who have screamed and chanted as members of Congress have tried to discuss health care reform with their constituents.

"The president believes and has always believed that town hall meetings are a very useful place for the discussion of issues, to talk about the decisions that are facing him and the American people," he said. "They ought to be able to be conducted without shouting and shoving and pushing and people getting hurt."

Added Gibbs: "I think we can have honest policy disagreements without being either disagreeable or certainly without being violent."

Addressing the question of whether the president believes the Republican Party is behind the disruptions, Gibbs said, "I think you've seen specific groups brag about being able to coalesce and manufacture the anger."

"We talked about one of the guys in here who happens to hold the title of running a health care company and having it be fined the greatest amount, $1.7 billion, ever that the federal government has levied against a health care company," he said. "I'm not entirely sure what -- what part of his role he wanted to brag about."

Gibbs was referring to Rick Scott, the former head of Columbia/HCA, who formed the group Conservatives for Patients' Rights. That group, which opposes the president's efforts at health care reform, has posted the locations and times of town hall meetings on its Web site.

5225587The press secretary went on to say that "anybody that has a strong opinion should come to a town hall meeting, but also respect that others may have -- may want to also take part in the town hall meeting or, you know, may just want to listen to the debate."

"And if somebody is yelling or somebody particularly is being violent, I'm not entirely sure that helps the entire process for anybody involved," he added.

Later in the briefing, Gibbs said he knows "the president believes strongly that we can discuss these issues without personally maligning the person that we're discussing this issue with; that we're doing so in a way that respects the dignity of each individual."

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