September 15th, 2009
04:29 PM ET
5 years ago

House deeply divided over proposed rebuke of Obama heckler

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, shouts 'You lie!' during President Obama's recent address to Congress.
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, shouts 'You lie!' during President Obama's recent address to Congress.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - House Democrats said Tuesday they will formally admonish Rep. Joe Wilson for yelling out in Congress that President Barack Obama lied, calling it a serious violation of the chamber's rules that must be rebuked to maintain civil discourse.

Republicans, meanwhile, rallied around Wilson, with many saying a planned resolution disapproving of Wilson's heckle is a petty partisan distraction from more serious issues.

The shout of "you lie" by Wilson during Obama's health-care speech to a joint session of Congress has become a major story on its own, with the House scheduled to vote later Tuesday on a resolution expressing disapproval. It is the mildest form of discipline the House can exercise for misconduct on the House floor.

"Whereas the conduct of the Representative from South Carolina was a breach of decorum and degraded the proceedings of the joint session, to the discredit of the House: Now, therefore, be it resolved that the House of Representatives disapproves of the behavior of the Representative from South Carolina, Mr. Wilson, during the joint session of Congress held on Sept. 9, 2009," says a text of the resolution posted on the legislative Web site of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland.

Before debate on the measure began, one Democrat argued the disrespect shown Obama by Wilson never would have happened to a white president.

"It only happened when this country elected a president of color," said Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia. Another noted the heckling of the president in the House was unprecedented, and the chamber needed to enforce discipline in order to maintain civility.

"No president has been subjected to that type of treatment on the floor of the House of Representatives, and if we go down that road, then it's the law of the jungle, and I think that's just wrong," said Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia.

However, House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio called the resolution "piling on."

Boehner noted that Wilson had already apologized to Obama. He accused Democrats of trying to "change the subject" away from what he claimed is an increasingly unpopular health-care reform bill.

Virginia GOP Rep. Eric Cantor noted that Obama had asked Congress in his speech to "set aside partisan bickering," while Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana, railed against the "petty politics" of the debate surrounding Wilson's behavior.

"The American people want less politics and more jobs," Pence said.

The House Democratic leadership agreed to move forward with the vote after meeting to discuss the issue Monday evening, according to two Democratic leadership aides.

Kristie Greco, spokeswoman for the House Democratic whip Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, said the resolution "goes directly to the issue of his conduct on the House floor."

Greco said the discussion at Monday evening's leadership meeting was about "how this speaks to the breach of decorum alone, and not addressing the issue sets a precedent for bad behavior."

"We're not the British Parliament for a reason," Greco added.

Under House rules, each side will get 30 minutes to debate the resolution. Leaders have not determined who will offer it on behalf of the Democrats, and the text has not been released.

Though most Republicans have agreed it was inappropriate for Wilson to shout "You lie!" at the president, several GOP aides told CNN they expect Republicans to oppose the resolution.

Wilson on Sunday described his loud retort to Obama's statement that illegal immigrants would not be covered under the Democrats' health-care bill as "a town hall moment." But he made it clear he would not apologize on the House floor. "I called immediately, I did apologize, but I believe one apology is sufficient," he said.

Wilson returned to the floor Monday during the time allotted to members to give one-minute speeches on the topic of their choice. But Wilson spoke about his town hall meetings on health care over the congressional recess and made no mention of his comments last Wednesday night or any apology.

Last week House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the episode "unfortunate" and told reporters at her weekly news conference, "It's time for us to talk about health care and not Mr. Wilson." But when Pelosi met with Democratic leaders later that day her colleagues argued that unless Wilson apologized on his own they would want a formal vote on a resolution of disapproval, according to several Democratic sources.

On Tuesday, Pelosi refused to comment on the resolution to reporters outside the weekly Democratic caucus meeting, saying that journalists should be focusing on the health-care reform issue.

Others were eager to offer their thoughts.

Johnson said Wilson's comment amounted to a "wink" of approval to right-wing extremists who have brought highly charged language and imagery - such as posters depicting Obama with a Hitler mustache or as an African witch doctor - to the health-care debate.

"He (Wilson) did not help the cause of diversity and tolerance with his remarks," Johnson said. "If I were a betting man, I would say that it instigated more racist sentiment feeling that it's okay - you don't have to bury it now."

Johnson added that failing to rebuke Wilson would bring increased racism in the public discussion on health care, saying: "You can bring it out and talk about it fully, and so I guess we will probably have folks putting on white hoods and white uniforms again riding through the countryside intimidating people."

"That's the logical conclusion if this kind of attitude is not rebuked, and Congressman Wilson represents it," Johnson said. "He is the face of it and that's why I support the resolution."

To Rep. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, a member of the moderate Blue Dog coalition, the issue is simple: "He has not apologized to the House for the embarrassment he brought to the" chamber.

Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California, a leading member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Wilson's violation of House rules was "egregious enough that it warrants an apology on the floor." Without that, the resolution of disapproval is called for, she said.

On the Republican side, Rep. Steve King of Iowa began circulating a letter among House Republicans last weekend urging Wilson not to apologize on the House floor.

The letter states, "We urge that you hold your ground against those who seek partisan advantage and reject all demands for additional redress. When the president of the United States accepts an apology, no observer has an additional claim."

Republican aides said the reaction over Wilson's outburst has given them an opportunity to elevate their concerns about the issue of illegal immigration in the health-care debate.

Looking ahead to Tuesday, one Republican leadership aide predicted, "If there is a debate, you're going to see Republicans talk about policy and not Joe Wilson."


Filed under: House • Joe Wilson
soundoff (77 Responses)
  1. Typical Republican

    I will not be a hypocrite. I salute every single american that ever disrespected Bush, and I hold people who threw shoes at him as my hero. I do this because I would be totally retarded to 'rally around wilson' but not 'rally around the shoe thrower".

    September 15, 2009 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  2. peter

    Republicans did what they do best....Just go away thugs!

    September 15, 2009 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  3. Diesel

    Why does Joe Wilson read like a 5th grader? He is ignorant.
    you can tell he went to SC public schools ....it shows

    September 15, 2009 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  4. Wendy

    Shouldnt Congress be debating and working on the health care plan? The man apoligized twice...and we need congress to debate if he apologized enough? Talk about a waste of tax dollars!! We are paying them to show us how partisan they can be LOL!!!

    September 15, 2009 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  5. alexa

    The House should get over it! He apologized!

    September 15, 2009 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  6. Jill M Adams

    No one demanded an apology when the Democrats Booed Bush.

    September 15, 2009 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  7. Diesel

    Just because he apoligized doesn't mean he should not be punished for his RUDE outburst....were not in England ! This is the USA

    September 15, 2009 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  8. Moderate Democrat

    So what the republican morons are saying is: "Yea, it wasn't a good thing...but we are at a disadvantage because we are not as smart as Democrats, so it's ok for us to be complete morons in a situation that should embrace civility and mutual respect."

    September 15, 2009 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  9. Grant

    Another sign the Democrats have no clue what to do. Instead of proving Rep Wilson was wrong, they are blame his behavior. Ever heard of "don't blame the messenger"?

    September 15, 2009 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  10. Robert

    The Repubublicans would have been wise to back this resolution. It is not petty... he not only was rude to the President, but he embarrassed the members of his institution, and he should apologize to them as well.

    It is necessary to do this in the face of his refusal – so that in the future, others who have no control over their own mouths (of either party) may think twice about doing it..

    September 15, 2009 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  11. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    I know that if Mr. Wilson wasn't told to apologize to the President from the republican leadership, he wouldn't have taken it upon himself to do so. Well South Carolinians can blame Mr. Wilson's comments for the decline in tourism. And I use to like Myrtle Beach.

    September 15, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  12. Independent in NYC

    Okay lets get this right. The republicans are saying that this is a distraction. Now are we not talking about the office of the President of the United States of America; are we not talking about the disruption made during a nationally televised joint session of congress; are we not talking about the fact that Mr. Willson was factually incorrect and are we not talking about a level of disrespect that has never, ever happened before. So, when the republicans lie its nothing; when the republicans exhibit anti-American behavior its nothing and when they spend 8 months doing nothing – not even reading the bills they oppose (why read what you know you won't vote for anyway); not doing the work they were sent to Washington to do and being paid for it – is all nothing but a distraction.

    Republicans - YOU LIE

    September 15, 2009 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  13. armymom1024

    so I'm guessing there will very soon be resolutions – at least – condemning the ridicule and disrespect both Rep's Rangle and Maurtha have brought to the House. No? Why the world not? Could all those so distraught over Rep Wilson's admittedly bad behavior explain the difference, or should I just hold my breath and turn blue?

    September 15, 2009 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  14. Diesel

    Everyone Agrees that Joe was wrong by yelling out "YOU lIE"
    So he should be repremandid. What is so hard about that ?
    It seems some people want to have it both way ... its Black and White .

    September 15, 2009 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  15. single mom

    I thought Pelosi was the leader. If she's the leader then why did she cave after she'd said Wilson's apology to Obama was sufficient?
    Who's in charge? Not her.

    September 15, 2009 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  16. What's the problem?

    Why is there a need to discuss and debate every single and non-relevant issue within the democratic party?

    These guys have no backbone!

    I am gaining more and more respect for the republicans because atleast they stand together and know how to get stuff done and they're not easily swayed by "public opinion".

    Dick Cheney was once told by a reporter that "a poll showed a majority of americans want an end to the Iraq war" His response... "So What!"

    September 15, 2009 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  17. Eugene

    Y'all kick him in the butt, and then get back to more pressing business. For Republicans to not recognize how totally wrong in all ways that Wilson acted and said is to admit more of their own ignorance.

    September 15, 2009 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  18. Debby

    Dumbocrats = a bunch whining babies.

    September 15, 2009 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  19. Dee

    I wonder how many of the folks who made donations to Joe Wilson's reelection campaign believe that they can pay their pledges in Confederate money.

    September 15, 2009 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  20. seebofubar

    PLEASE PLEASE DO IT DEMOCRATS!!! It will just be another nail in your coffin for 2010.

    September 15, 2009 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  21. eolufemi

    This is great reality television...Voting Obama in has made politics so interesting...

    September 15, 2009 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  22. MT

    The 'chamber's rules' are only for those that are in power!

    How about the Democrats "Lock-out/Lights-out" a few months ago? That was strictly an effort to derail a "roll call", was that following "chamber's rules".

    Yeah that's what I thought.... Thieves, Crooks and Unions are the ONLY ones on the hill anymore and that goes for BOTH parties.

    September 15, 2009 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  23. Obama administration AKA "Looney Tunes"

    My how democrats forget about all the heckling during the Bush years.
    Let me ask you all, where was your respect then?

    September 15, 2009 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  24. KYBluesky

    Republicans are hypocrites. They're always the first to dish out garbage, but don't have the balls to back it up. Waah cry whine cry. Their lack of self-control and dignity–from the top leadership down to the T(scum)baggers–is such a turn off. Wilson should man up to his mistake and the GOP "leadership" should hold their little spazoid accountable. At this point he outta be grateful he's retired, or his sorry butt would be court-martialed, disrespectful little twit.

    September 15, 2009 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  25. ran

    So like the health care bill, Democrats just do it without the GOP.

    Then go on energy and immigration.

    Seeing the GOP have no intention of helping why not just give us single payer non-profit universal health care now.

    September 15, 2009 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
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