DECORAH, Iowa — President Obama was confronted by a tea party activist Monday night who wanted to know how Mr. Obama can call for compromise with Republicans while Democrats accuse the tea party of being “terrorists.”
Ryan Rhodes, a leader of the group in Iowa, challenged Mr. Obama during the president’s open-air town hall meeting in Decorah, a town of 8,200 in the northeast corner of Iowa, as the president was taking questions from a mostly friendly audience. The tense moment came soon after Mr. Obama had told the crowd that he views himself as the reasonable one in dealing with congressional Republicans.
Mr. Rhodes shouted out that the president’s calls for more civility in politics were meaningless when “your vice president is calling people like me, a tea party member, a ‘terrorist.’”
According to multiple sources, Vice President Joseph R. Biden agreed with that characterization during a recent meeting with House Democrats during the debt debate showdown last month. Both Mr. Biden’s office and the president have since disavowed the remark.
“I know it’s not going to work, if you stand up and I asked everybody to raise their hand … I didn’t see you, I wasn’t avoiding you,” the president said.
“I absolutely agree that everybody needs to try to tone down the rhetoric,” Mr. Obama said. “In fairness, since I have been called a socialist who wasn’t born in this country, who is destroying America and taking away its freedoms because I passed a health care bill, I am all for lowering the rhetoric.”
Mr. Rhodes and another conservative activist later confronted the president on the rope line as Mr. Obama was leaving the event. Mr. Rhodes told reporters he does believe the president is a socialist.