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ABC's Robin Roberts Disappointed in 'Tone' of GOP Response to Health Care

Good Morning America co-host Robin Roberts on Tuesday pressed Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty to account for the "tone" of conservatives and Republicans following the passage of health care legislation. Speaking of protests in Washington over the weekend, she complained, "And some things that didn't help, and I don't know if you agree or not, the tone, the tone that it took."

Guest co-host Bill Weir uttered similar disapproval of the "vitriol." He talked to White House senior advisor David Axelrod and worried, "How do you regard this white-hot anger we heard yesterday?" Weir also opined that some Americans are "violently opposed" to the legislation.

During Roberts' segment with Pawlenty, she forced the potential 2012 candidate to respond to liberal complaints about tea partiers: "I want to play something that Barry [sic] Frank said in responding to a homophobic slur that was directed at him." After playing the clip, Roberts continued to try and associate a few inappropriate comments with the conservative movement: "Barney Frank saying, of course, you can disagree. That's the American way. But the manner in which it has taken, do you agree with him, that, in some ways, it's being egged on?"

However, on Monday, Politico quoted Frank smearing the protesters: "It's like the Salem witch trials, and health care is the witches." Will the Congressman be held to account by journalists for his lowering of the "tone?"

As Roberts teased the segment at the top of the show, she lauded the unanimity within the studio. Explaining that regular host George Stephanopoulos was out, Roberts gushed, "We're happy to have Bill Weir with us. And if we could just have the same friendly spirit on Capitol Hill." The host contemplated, "If only. Hmm."

Earlier in the piece, Roberts challenged Pawlenty about "critics" who say that opposing the legislation in court is "nothing more than an attempt to gut the bill." She quizzed, "And why not spend time and energy on trying to make it work the best way it can?"

A transcript of the March 23 segment, which aired at 7:07am EDT, follows:

7:01

ROBIN ROBERTS: George is off today. We're happy to have Bill Weir with us. And if we could just have the same friendly spirit on Capitol Hill.

BILL WEIR: If only.

ROBERTS: If only. Hmm.

7:07

ROBERTS: As we said, the Republicans not giving up without a fight. They are ready for battle. And Republican governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty is good enough to join us. I know you were hearing David Axelrod and you heard at the end there, that they expected the lawsuits and they're not worried about them. Will you continue to press forward?

TIM PAWLENTY: Well, absolutely. I sent a letter yesterday to my attorney general, who happens to be on the other side of the aisle, that this does look like an unprecedented overreach by the federal government, forcing individual citizens to buy a good or service, for no other reason than they happen to be alive or a person. That seems to be unprecedented. Even the Congressional Budget Office said so in the 1990s.

ROBERTS: How do you respond to critics who say this is nothing more than an attempt to gut the bill? And why not spend time and energy on trying to make it work the best way it can?

PAWLENTY: Well, the nation faces big challenges. And we need to fix this big, federalized, bureaucratic, government-run, kind of nanny approach. And they should have worked with us on better ways. But, as to the point you raise, I don't think defending the Constitution and individuals' rights under the Constitution and the relationship between states and the federal government, under the Constitution is a frivolous matter. It's a foundational matter. And it's an important one for our nation.

ROBERTS: And it's one that, of course, you and others share. But what about successful efforts by your Republican counterparts to reform health care in their respective states? Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, for example. Do you think that was a bad idea?

PAWLENTY: Well, I think what is a good idea is not having the government take these systems over. Republicans across the country, including here in Minnesota, have had good ideas that we could have agreed on if President Obama and the Democrats would have set aside their version of the ideal and worked with us on a bipartisan basis. Those things could have been included. Pre-existing conditions. Including letting children stay on their parents' health insurance longer. Including having transparency in pricing in a market where consumers are in charge, including malpractice reform and tort reform and down the list. There were ten or 15 really good reforms that both sides could have agreed on if President Obama and the democrats would have set aside their obsession with things from the 1960s or the European approach to these things. It's not going to work. They have every entitlement program they currently run is bankrupt. This one will be bankrupt within 20 years as well.

ROBERTS: You talk about obsession. This took about 13 months to finally get this passed. And there was attempts on both sides, and good intentions, on both sides of the aisle. How did this become such a political football, do you think?

PAWLENTY: Well, I think for conservatives, we underestimate just how powerful that this government-run, single-payer, federal health care obsession is within the Democratic Party or the liberal movement. It's something they've been working on for 30 years. And they were more interested in achieving that ideological or political goal rather than working with Republicans to get something done. And, again, if each side had set aside the few things they can't agree on, there were ideas that would have significantly and incrementally helped the system, for quality, for cost containment, for expanding access. And they rejected those ideas, for the most part.

ROBERTS: And some things that didn't help, and I don't know if you agree or not, the tone, the tone that it took. Especially at the end there when you heard slurs and other things. I want to play something that Barry [sic] Frank said in responding to a homophobic slur that was directed at him.

REP. BARNEY FRANK: There are leaders in the Republican Party and elsewhere who kind of egg these people on, who legitimize, not simple disagreement with the bill, which is, of course, what people should be doing. But, denunciation of people's motives, personal views.

ROBERTS: Barney Frank saying, of course, you can disagree. That's the American way. But the manner in which it has taken, do you agree with him, that, in some ways, it's being egged on?

PAWLENTY: Name-calling and attacking people personally or their personal characteristics is inappropriate. And in some cases what you heard there was absolutely absurd, in terms of what people were yelling or chanting. And that should not happen. It was inappropriate. We can have disagreements. But we should have disagreements on the issues, on the substance. And we should treat each other civilly and thoughtfully and fairly. There's always going to be tension and heat in these debates.

ROBERTS: Right.

PAWLENTY: But let's debate the issues. Let's not debate people's personal characteristics.

ROBERTS: I think that's something we can all agree on. Governor Pawlenty, thank you so much for weighing in this morning. Have a good day.

-Scott Whitlock is a news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.