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Lauer Warns Robert Gibbs: Obama Town Hall Could Be 'Super Bowl for Shouters'

NBC's Matt Lauer, on Tuesday's Today show, invited on Robert Gibbs to preview Barack Obama's town hall meeting on health care and warned the White House press secretary that it could become a "Super Bowl for shouters." In a segment headlined: "Town Hall Tensions, Obama Battles Health Care Outrage," Lauer, given all the "tension" at the meetings, worried about the President of the United States being shouted down:

MATT LAUER: Let me start with a blunt question. Is this a good idea? I mean, you're gonna send the President out there in a town hall forum and two more later in the week. This will, in some ways, become the Super Bowl for these shouters.

ROBERT GIBBS: Yeah.

LAUER: They're gonna get a chance to shout down the President of the United States. They've got nothing to lose, but the President certainly does. Doesn't he?

A little later in the interview Lauer granted that protestors "may give voice" to "real concerns" about health care reform but noted they may do it "in an inappropriate way." Lauer then went on to comment that once "you take the shouting out of it," Obama faced opposition from within his own party but feared that, that could lead to "health care reform-lite."

LAUER: Well if you take, if you take, if you take the shouting out of it, the President still has some problems on health care reform within his own party. There are a lot of Democrats who think this is too big and too costly. Is he going to, he's already had to put off the vote. Is he gonna have to make so many concessions over the coming weeks and months perhaps that we're gonna get something akin to health care reform-lite?

Before the Gibbs interview NBC's Chuck Todd played up the "rage" theme as he intoned: "And now with rage, all the rage, at town hall meetings, President Obama's health care forum today could be one interesting spectacle."

The following are Todd's set-up piece followed by Lauer's interview with Gibbs as they were aired on the August 11, Today show:

MEREDITH VIEIRA: President Obama comes face-to-face today with both supporters and opponents of his plan to revamp the nation's health care system. NBC's chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd is in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where the President is holding a town hall forum. Good morning to you, Chuck

[On screen headline: "Town Hall Tensions, Obama Battles Health Care Outrage."]

CHUCK TODD: Well good morning, Meredith. Well, as you know, New Englanders take the town hall meeting very seriously, and here in New Hampshire, they're almost professionals at dealing with town halls. And now with rage, all the rage, at town hall meetings, President Obama's health care forum today could be one interesting spectacle. The often rancorous debate over the health care debate followed the President all the way to Guadalajara, Mexico, where Mr. Obama tried to stay above the fray.

BARACK OBAMA: We are having a vigorous debate in the United States, and I think that's a healthy thing.

TODD: Vigorous may be an understatement. Many members of Congress have seen their local town hall meetings turn into shouting matches.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is not health reform! This is control! Control over our lives!

TODD: At his town hall Georgia Democrat David Scott shot back.

REP. DAVID SCOTT: Not a single one of you had the decency to call my office and set up for a meeting. Okay? Then do that!

TODD: New York Democrat Scott Murphy took the high ground.

REP. SCOTT MURPHY: This is what's great about our community is that we have different opinions.

TODD: While South Carolina Republican Bob Inglis placed the blame on cable news, specifically Fox News channel personality Glenn Beck.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I'm afraid of Obama.

REP. BOB INGLIS: Why are you afraid?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He's a socialist!

INGLIS: A good suggestion up here, the suggestion was Glenn Beck, here's what I'd suggest. Turn that television off when he comes on.

TODD: And as the President prepares for his own town hall today there is at least one local New Hampshire Republican group putting out a Facebook invitation to a protest against what they call President Obama's, quote, "plan for a government takeover of your healthcare decisions." The White House is pushing back offering a quote, "reality check" on its own Web site, whitehouse.gov. And the President on Monday joked about one of the myths he's been fighting, turning American health care into something like Canada's single-payer system.

OBAMA: I don't find Canadians particularly scary, but I guess some of the opponents of reform think that they make a good boogeyman.

TODD: Meanwhile Congressional Democrats have set up their own town hall war room in House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office. Hoyer's Monday USA Today op-ed, written with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has drawn fire for calling come of these protests un-American. Now, Matt, the President today is gonna tailor his remarks, and you're gonna hear the phrase "health insurance reform" a lot. And he's gonna emphasize how his plan is designed to prevent insurance companies from dropping folks with pre-existing conditions. Also, don't be surprised if the President reaches out and tries to, to deal with this rage that we've been seeing today at today's town hall.

MATT LAUER: Alright Chuck thanks very much. Chuck Todd in New Hampshire for us this morning. Robert Gibbs is the White House press secretary. Robert, good to see you.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Matt, how are you?

LAUER: I'm doing well. Thanks very much. Let me start with a blunt question. Is this a good idea? I mean, you're gonna send the President out there in a town hall forum and two more later in the week. This will, in some ways, become the Super Bowl for these shouters.

GIBBS: Yeah.

LAUER: They're gonna get a chance to shout down the President of the United States. They've got nothing to lose, but the President certainly does. Doesn't he?

GIBBS: Oh, I think we all have something to lose, Matt, if we let cable television come to town hall meetings and kill health care reform for another year, and put the special interests back in charge. Understand, Matt, I've been to probably 500 town hall meetings with Barack Obama dating back five years. I've never been to one where everybody agreed with everything he said. He's happy to engage the people that don't support this, and, and try to convince them of what he's trying to do. But more importantly, to give everybody the information they need to understand that health care reform can work for them. Specifically, as Chuck mentioned today, he'll be introduced by somebody who's been discriminated against in trying to buy insurance-

LAUER: Right.

GIBBS: -because they had a pre-existing condition.

LAUER: But-

GIBBS: 12 million Americans over the past three years have been discriminated against on that pre-existing condition alone-

LAUER: But I want to go back-

GIBBS: That's gotta stop.

LAUER: I want to go back, Robert, to what you said a second ago. You said, "You can't allow cable television to come into these things." Isn't that underestimating what you're hearing? I mean there are some people who say, yeah, these people are getting up and shouting do not represent any grassroots movement. They call them Astroturf. But don't they give voice, and maybe even in an inappropriate way, to some real concerns out there?

GIBBS: Oh look Matt, dissent is part of the American tradition. I think what is unproductive though if somebody tries to come to a town hall meeting and you can't ask your question or your mother can't ask her question, because somebody else is yelling. That's what cable TV and the food fight brings to this. I think what people want to hear are solutions for how we're gonna improve health care reform. That's what Barack Obama wants to do. How do we cut costs for families? How do we save small businesses from the crushing cost of health care? And how do we ensure that if you go to buy insurance today, you're not discriminated against by an insurance company based on a pre-existing condition.

LAUER: If you-

GIBBS: Those are questions that people want answers to. They don't want to see people yell. We can discuss these issues like civilized people. At least that's what I tell my six-year-old.

LAUER: Well if you take, if you take, if you take the shouting out of it, the President still has some problems on health care reform within his own party. There are a lot of Democrats who think this is too big and too costly. Is he going to, he's already had to put off the vote. Is he gonna have to make so many concessions over the coming weeks and months perhaps that we're gonna get something akin to health care reform-lite?

GIBBS: No, what we're going to get, what the President has said time and time again is, we have certain principles that have to be met. We're not interested in signing something and then hoping that people call it reform. We have to cut costs for people, for families. Cut costs for small businesses. Institute these common sense insurance reforms, and ensure that millions of people can have access to affordable insurance so that we're not burdening the system with millions of people that are, that don't have care but are going to the emergency rooms. And, Matt, you and I and everybody pay for that.

-Geoffrey Dickens is the senior news analyst at the Media Research Center.