House Votes to Rebuke Wilson
WASHINGTON - The House of Representatives officially rebuked Republican Joe Wilson on Tuesday for shouting "You lie!" in the middle of President Obama's health care address to a joint session of Congress.
The South Carolina lawmaker's outburst last week was a "breach of decorum," according to the resolution, which states that the House "disapproves" of his behavior. The resolution passed 240-179, largely along party lines. Seven Republicans broke with their leadership to support it; 12 Democrats were opposed.
The vote came after Wilson refused to deliver a formal apology from the House floor. Wilson told USA TODAY and Gannett's WLTX-TV in an interview after the House action that he was "disappointed" by the "classic political game playing." He conceded he objected to Obama's policies "in the wrong time and the wrong place," but insisted he had apologized enough. "People know I'm a civil person," he said. "I respect the president."
During the floor debate, however, a top Democrat urged members to send a message about civility. "Proper contrition has not been made," said House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina. "The first sign of education is good manners."
Republicans accused Democrats of wasting time on what House Minority Leader John Boehner called "a partisan stunt." Republican speakers did acknowledge that Wilson's conduct was out of line.
"Last Wednesday was not a good day in the House," said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., referring to the day of Wilson's remark, "but today is worse."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said last week that the House should "talk about health care, not Mr. Wilson." But she still supported members of her party who insisted on a formal rebuke and cast a rare vote Tuesday, in favor of the resolution. The House speaker usually does not vote.
During the debate, Wilson said he was grateful for the support of his family and constituents. He noted that Obama had "graciously accepted" his apology, which Wilson delivered by telephone to Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. Wilson said that the Democrats' insistence on pushing "a very bad health care plan" had "provoked partisanship."
Clyburn said Wilson's refusal to apologize from the House chamber flouted tradition.
In 1984, a Democratic-controlled House deleted from the official record insulting remarks that House Speaker Tip O'Neill, D-Mass., uttered against Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. In 2003, House Republican leaders forced a weepy Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., to say "I'm sorry" on the House floor for calling the Capitol Hill police to evict Democrats from a meeting room.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus were among the Democrats pushing hardest for the resolution, but at least one member, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C., argued against it. She worried that forcing an apology could backfire. "If you keep beating this horse, you'll look like you want to humiliate him," she said.
Former President Jimmy Carter, speaking at a town-hall-style meeting at his presidential center in Atlanta on Tuesday, said Wilson's outburst was an act "based on racism."
Wilson's campaign says he has raised about $1.5 million since Obama's speech. Rob Miller, a Democrat challenging Wilson in next year's election, has raised more than $1.5 million, according to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. That puts the race for Wilson's seat on track to be one of the nation's most expensive House contests.