HELENA — Sen. Max Baucus' office Monday denounced a widely viewed Internet video that suggested Baucus was drunk on the Senate floor last week, calling it an "untrue, personal smear" designed to attack Democrats’ health-care reform legislation.
"This is beyond the pale, and this type of gutter politics has no place in the public sphere," said Baucus spokesman Ty Matsdorf.
The video, posted over the weekend on the popular Internet video Web site YouTube, is a five-minute clip of Baucus speaking last Tuesday during floor debate on the health-reform bill that passed the Senate on Christmas Eve.
Baucus, a key figure in Democrats’ crafting of the health-reform bill, is angrily answering Republican criticism that Democrats fashioned a partisan bill and locked Republicans out of any meaningful talks on the bill.
The video on YouTube is headlined "Senator Max Baucus drunk/intoxicated on Senate floor — shouts down Wicker," and was the top item Monday on the Drudge Report, a prominent right-leaning news Web site.
The Drudge Report’s link to the video said: "Drunk With Power? Top Dem Baucus slurs on Senate floor."
By Monday, the video had nearly 177,000 views and thousands of comments.
The poster of the video, who is not required by YouTube to use his or her real name, calls themselves "SocialistSteal," and lists an occupation as "crusader against fascism and socialist crap." The person who posts a video on YouTube writes its headline.
The clip is from C-Span, showing a portion of Baucus' exchange with Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.
Baucus, whose public speaking style can be halting and awkward, is not slurring his words, but sometimes repeats himself during the five-minute video.
Upon request, Baucus’ office provided a transcript of the floor exchange, which occurred after Wicker and other Republican senators denounced the health-reform bill and said Democrats had refused any serious negotiation with Republicans on the issue.
They also invoked the name of the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy, saying Kennedy always began his work by trying to get cooperation from the other party, and that such cooperation didn't occur on the health-reform bill.
Baucus rose to reply, called it "disrespectful and unseemly" to invoke Kennedy’s name to attack the bill, and said it was Republicans who had refused to cooperate on the reform bill and chosen to attack it for partisan advantage.
"I ask, where is the senator on that side of the aisle who has the courage to break from their leadership, break from the partisanship they are exercising on their side of the aisle, to work together to pass health-care reform?” Baucus said. "I ask, where is the courage?"
He also related how a group of six senators — three Democrats and three Republicans tried to work out a compromise bill this fall, but how the Republicans “one by one by one, they started to drift away,” because of pressure from their leadership to not take part in any agreement.
Wicker then briefly interjects, saying the Republican negotiators realized Democrats wanted to "Europeanize the health care system of the United State of America," after which Baucus contends "that is a totally untruthful statement."
Wicker and Baucus formally “yielded” to the other; neither one was “shouted down,” as stated in the YouTube headline.
Matsdorf said Baucus gave a "passionate defense" because he felt that Kennedy, a lifelong proponent of health-care reform, was being used "as a cheap foil to oppose health care reform."
"Unfortunately, those who want to kill any meaningful reform turned (Baucus’ speech) into an unfounded, untrue personal smear (and) Internet rumor," Matsdorf said. "It is this type of slander that makes Montanans, and Americans, disgusted with the politics as usual in Washington. And what is even more sad is that such a personal attack would be given any validity at all, let alone being elevated to the status of 'news.'"