- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 17, 2009

A heckler was escorted by uniformed officers from President Obama’s speech to students at the University of Maryland College Park on Thursday after he briefly interrupted the president’s defense of his health care program.

The young man, wearing a grey polo shirt and a beret, began yelling from his second-row seat at the university’s cavernous basketball arena.

“Obama you’re a liar. Obama, your health care kills children. Abortion is murder,” he yelled.

As the man was being escorted out, another man in the crowd grabbed his beret and tossed it, earning himself a police escort out of the arena.

The heckler drew immediate boos from those seated around him and then from a boisterous and supportive crowd, who gave the president repeated ovations. Some threw cups or crumpled paper bags at the hecker. Mr. Obama briefly paused from his remarks to ask, “What’s going on?” But he quickly resumed his prepared remarks.

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The crowd roared as three uniformed officers led the man from his seat, up the arena steps, and out Gate 125.

The speech came during a sustained public relations blitz by Mr. Obama designed both to sell his plan to the American public and to put pressure on Congress to pass it.

The White House estimated the crowd at 15,000.

As part of that effort, the White House on Thursday tried to emphasize the bipartisan nature of his approach, even though the proposals being considered by a number of House and Senate committees have so far failed to attract a single Republican vote.

The White House released copies of a memorandum the president sent to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius instructing her to initiate work on pilot programs that are aimed at reducing the impact of medical malpractice lawsuits on the cost of health care. His proposal calls on the department to begin issuing $25 million in grants to states and organizations to jump-start and evaluate those efforts.

After the heckler was removed, Mr. Obama repeated his criticism of the way opponents to his proposal have carried themselves during the debate.

“Too often during this debate we’ve also seen the same kind of partisan spectacle,” he said, “but when you ask them what their solution is … it’s more of the same.”

Though disruptions became a recurring feature of summer town-hall meetings held by members of Congress, the president held similar events around the country without such a scene unfolding.

“This is what they always do,” he said, speaking broadly about the opposition to his efforts. “That’s why I need your help. When I was running for president, I never said change was going to be easy. It’s hard. It’s always hard.”