In what could be the last stand for opponents of Democratic health care overhaul, House Republicans joined thousands of "tea party" protesters in a rally on the West Front of the Capitol today, days before the House is expected to vote on the bill.
"You came! And you came for your House! You came for an emergency house call," Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., said before the cheering crowd, holding colorful signs and waving banners.
"The Republicans don't have the votes to kill this bill. ... But what we knew was unlimited is the voice of persuasion of the American people. And that's why you're here today."
Bachmann had issued a last-minute appeal to activists to come to Washington during a conference call last week and in a subsequent appearance on Fox News. The House of Representatives will likely vote on the Democratic leadership's health care bill this weekend.
Earlier today, two influential national organizations endorsed the House Democrats' legislation: the AARP and the American Medical Associaton.
Bachmann called on protesters to converge on the Capitol and go door-to-door, telling members of Congress to vote against what she calls "a government takeover of one-fifth of our economy."
Dozens of buses, organized by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity carried grassroots activists and concerned citizens from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and North Carolina. Organizers said activists became energized after Republican victories in Virginia and New Jersey Tuesday.
"Speaker Pelosi did not get the message on Tuesday that people aren't happy with the way things are going," Dave Schwartz, Maryland state director of Americans for Prosperity, told ABC News. "We need to send her another message."
The message activists and House Republicans want to send is that Democrats' health care legislation is, in their view, an irresponsible and costly government takeover of health care.
"This bill is the greatest threat to freedom I've seen in the 19 years since I've been in Washington," House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told the crowd. "Join us in defeating 'Pelosi-Care!'"
"I've read the majority of this bill," said Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., a physician. "I've got a diagnosis: It's legislative malpractice."
Price motioned to a tall stack of white copy paper bound with a yellow rope piled atop the podium and above the blue sign that read "Health Care Freedom" -- the theme of the Republicans' message today.
Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told the crowd, "Republicans have better ideas to give you more choices, more freedom in health care, access for everybody. We're going to fight for those ideas."
Amid cheers, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., said, "We have an alternative: H.R. 3400."
Republicans were joined by other notable public figures, including actor Jon Voight and radio host Mark Levin.
"I'm so deeply proud to be among you brave, concerned, patriotic American citizens," Voight said. "The biggest vote in the U.S., the biggest voice in the U.S. is your voice, the voice of the American people."
Among the faces in the crowd were young people who took off work, parents with their teenage children and senior citizens.
Schwartz of Americans for Prosperity described today's rally as "very organic." Seven buses carrying 350 people traveled to Washington, D.C., from parts of Maryland. Hundreds more, he said, carpooled behind.