DeLay gave this response, which piqued our interest:
Chris, you shouldn’t be surprised about this. This has been going on forever. When I did my town hall meetings, I’ll never forget one back in the ’80s — on health care, by the way. They brought in quadriplegics on gurneys and dumped them on the floor in front of my podium. I mean, this is not new. What’s new is, the people that came into disrupt my town meetings, we just let them go on because it usually turned off the people that were there. What’s happening here is the American people are on their side.
Wild stuff. Sounds like the town hall protest of the decade — but did it actually happen?
Here at TPMmuckraker, we scoured news archives for such an incident — and called around, including to DeLay’s spokeswoman, who has not responded to questions about the episode.
Then we got a look at a May 1996 article from the Houston Chronicle about a series of protests by the disabilities advocacy group ADAPT, brought to our attention by Democratic consultant Peter Lindstrom.
It begins like this:
“Groups of protesters, most of them in wheelchairs, barricaded two local political offices Tuesday to demand changes in the way disabled people receive care in America. … A second group of about 150 ADAPT supporters blockaded and occupied U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay’s office in Sugar Land [Texas], until DeLay agreed to meet with them. “
“Tuesday’s protesters narrowly escaped arrest by Stafford police when DeLay, who is in Washington, D.C., agreed to meet with them next month.”
Huh. And here, again, is what DeLay told Chris Matthews:
“When I did my town hall meetings, I’ll never forget one back in the ’80s — on health care, by the way. They brought in quadriplegics on gurneys and dumped them on the floor in front of my podium.”
Time tinges everyone’s memories; but this seems like a bit of a stretch.
Is it possible that DeLay is thinking of the ADAPT episode — and just replacing 90s with 80s, district office with health care town hall, protesters in wheelchairs with quadriplegics dumped from gurneys, and not-having-been-there-at-all with seeing it unfold in front of his podium?
Perhaps DeLay’s story would have a little more credibility if he could simply produce its birth certificate.
Late Update: Two reporters who’ve covered DeLay extensively over the years say the quadriplegic story is new to them.