WASHINGTON - Demonstrators outside the U.S. Capitol, angry over the proposed health care overhaul bill, shouted racial epithets Saturday at U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia congressman and civil rights icon who was nearly beaten to death at an Alabama march in the 1960s.
The protesters also shouted obscenities at other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, lawmakers said.
Capitol Police escorted the members of Congress into the Capitol after the confrontation.
"They were shouting, sort of harassing," Lewis said. "But, it's okay, I've faced this before. It reminded me of the '60s. It was a lot of downright hate and anger and people being downright mean."
Lewis said he was leaving the building across from the Capitol when protesters shouted, "Kill the bill, kill the bill," Lewis said.
"I said, 'I'm for the bill, I support the bill, I'm voting for the bill,'" Lewis said.
Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., told a reporter that as he left the Cannon House Office Building with Lewis, some among the crowd chanted "the N-word, the N-word, 15 times."
"It was like going into the time machine with John Lewis," said Carson, a large former police officer who said he wasn't frightened but worried about the 70-year-old Lewis, who is twice his age. "He said it reminded him of another time."
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., said he was behind Lewis and distinctly heard the slurs. Cleaver's office said later in a statement that he'd also been spat upon.
Protesters also used a slur as they confronted Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., an openly gay member of Congress. A writer for Huffington Post said the crowd called Frank a "f-----." Frank said the crowd referred to him as "homo."
Thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the Capitol on Saturday as the House Democratic leadership worked to gather enough votes to enact the health care legislation. Most were affiliated with so-called tea party organizations that originally sprang up during last summer's protests of the health care proposals.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., said Saturday's ugliness underscored for him that the health care overhaul isn't the only motivation for many protesters.
"I heard people saying things today I've not heard since March 15th, 1960, when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus," Clyburn said. "This is incredible, shocking to me."