Washington sees ugly buildup to health care vote

With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at his side, President Obama met with House Democrats in Washington on Saturday.

WASHINGTON --- House Democrats heard it all Saturday -- words of inspiration from President Obama and raucous chants of protests from demonstrators. At times it was flat-out ugly, including some racial epithets aimed at black members of Congress.

Most of the day's important work leading up to today's historic vote on health care was being done behind closed doors. Democratic leaders cajoled, bargained and did what they could to nail down the votes they will need to finally push the bill through the House.

But much else about the day was noisy, emotional and right out in the open. After more than a year debating the capstone of Obama's domestic agenda and just hours to go before the showdown vote, there was little holding back.

Clogging the sidewalks and streets of Capitol Hill were at least hundreds of loud, furious protesters, many of them tea party opponents of the health care overhaul.

"Kill the bill," the largely middle-aged crowd shouted, surging toward lawmakers who crossed the street between their office buildings and the Capitol.

Kristie Greco, a spokeswoman for Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said a protester spit on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., who is black.

Clyburn, who led fellow black students in integrating South Carolina's public facilities a half century ago, called the behavior "absolutely shocking."

"I heard people saying things today that I have not heard since March 15, 1960, when I was marching to try to get off the back of the bus," Clyburn told reporters.

Obama's Capitol Hill visit was the day's emotional peak for House Democrats as he sought to energize them to finally approve the legislation.

He conceded that it could be tough for some to vote for the bill, but predicted it would end up being politically smart because once it becomes law people will realize they like its provisions like curbs on insurance companies.

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