Speaker Newt Gingrich fled from a meeting organized for him to discuss changes in Medicare on Monday morning as about 100 trade unionists, led by a Democratic congressman, appeared in the hall to accuse him of seeking to cut the program to finance tax cuts for the rich.
Gingrich did not confront the protesters face to face, and he returned later to speak unhindered. But the demonstrators were the angriest group he has confronted this summer over Medicare, the health care program for the elderly, which is one of the most incendiary issues in Republican budget plans.
The encounter occurred at a conference sponsored by the Congressional Institute, a private Washington foundation that often acts as host for Republican meetings. The program included various experts discussing both Medicare’s finances and changes in the health care system that they thought could reduce costs.
As Gingrich was waiting offstage about 20 minutes after he was scheduled to speak, a group of about 100 led by Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who had also been invited to the conference, was standing quietly in the back of the hotel ballroom. Evidently aware that a confrontation loomed, Gingrich left by way of a back elevator. Soon after, members of the group took over the stage, chanting “Where is Newt?” and “Newt is scared.”