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. That Other Jerry

    I'm a Republican who is tired of being embarrassed by this kind of behavior. Wilson has proven himself no better than the lowlifes who troll these forums and use oh-so-clever terms like "Repuglican", and insert random jabs at Bush into every answer. He's a Congressman; he should be capable of at least pretending to have a little class. Obviously that is beyond him. He should be censured for being so stupid. Take the vote, and then move on.

    September 15, 2009 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  2. Steph

    It is so sad when I have to tell my daughter that she shouldn't look up to a government official just like she shouldn't look up to a rap artist (Kanye). I expect a bit more civilized behavior from elected officials than I do a music artist.

    Signing pictures of the outbursts he supposedly apologized for...truly despicable.

    September 15, 2009 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  3. walleye

    With Wilson raising $1Million since his "you lie" incident, this only tells me common sense along with civility in our country has gone down the toilet. Cant believe there are so many morons still left in this country.

    September 15, 2009 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  4. Regressive Party Refugee (former republican)

    Look, the guy apologized and the apology was accepted. End of story, unless you want to game it, which, sad to say, is obviously the case.

    Now, if he had not immediately apologized, or if his apology had not been accepted because it wasn't sincere, different story. But he did, and it was, so those congressmen wasting time and money need to move on.

    September 15, 2009 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  5. KJ

    What Wilson did was igorant and disrespectful. Despite what some people have said, Bush was never disrespected in this manner when speaking to Congress. We, the people, the media, Republicans and Democrats, may have called Bush a lot of things but he was never heckled during a speech by a member of Congress.

    That said, I believe Congress should not waste anytime on this issue. There are much more important issues affecting this country than to worry about a "spoiled brat".

    While I don't agree with all aspects of the Presidnet's agenda, I do believe in his honesty and integrity. The safe political move would have been to avoid the tough issues. I respect him for having the courage to do so despite the obvious risks. He contniues to have my support.

    September 15, 2009 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  6. Wake Up

    So this is what they've campaigned for and spent millions of dollars to be?? Party hacks from both sides. Less government now. We need term limits

    September 15, 2009 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  7. Proud Member..Party of No

    So it has come to this.......democrats attempting to punish someone just for speaking the truth.

    September 15, 2009 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  8. Lynda/Minnesota

    Glad to see the "shoe thrower" who went after Bush is getting out of prison . . . It would be hypocritical to rally around Wilson for his idiotic behavior and not rally around those who disagreed with Bush as well.

    Isn't this exactly what the GOPers are saying by embracing Wilson? It's OK if they are the ones being boorish, but not OK when the flack was against Bush or their own party members.

    Something about patriotism comes to mind...

    September 15, 2009 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  9. JES

    Now I see where this has become a thing of color. Give me a break. Everyone continues that the chamber booed President Bush during one of his State of the Union addresses. The comments made were correct that our current President doesn't have a clue.

    I thought we had many more serious problems, but the Democrats don't think so.

    Start acting like adults and lead not cry.

    September 15, 2009 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  10. kelly cauffman

    I have been a democrat since i was 16 yrs old. move on guys. we dont care that someone shot off his mouth. actually we are very used to politicians speaking and acting inappropriately.

    September 15, 2009 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  11. JAY

    Pelosi embaressed congress when she lied about not
    knowing about waterboarding ,many times. she should be made
    to apologize to the American people and congress if she
    does not do it, she should be disciplined too.

    September 15, 2009 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  12. Beatrice

    just apologize and it will go away ...

    September 15, 2009 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  13. They call me "Tater Salad"

    Well if Wilson would have been professional and kept himself quiet and not acted out like some over emotional, little, homecoming queen at a Junior High pep rally, none of this would be happening right now did you ever think of that?............Of course not! Republicans aren't known for being real big on thinking! Par for the course!!!!!!!!

    September 15, 2009 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  14. Kat

    Obama lied!!!!!!!

    September 15, 2009 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  15. Party Purity will never bring Political Power!

    And the support of the entire republican party only shows that indeed the party is full of racists.

    We, all know what he meant "You lie, Boy"! and whites screaming "take back OUR country"! McCain's comment about "that one".

    We all now understand the code speech of republicans, this is just the 2ast century version of the 1950's word.

    September 15, 2009 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  16. Chaz

    Rep Wilson not only disrespected our president but also disrespected the people of America. It's sad day when we don't want our children to hear a message from the President but we can play it over and over when an elected official disrepects our President.

    Rep. Wilson appologized to the President but nnot to the American people.

    what type of people donate money to someone like Rep. Wison...Is there a hint of Hiddden RACISM somewhere?

    September 15, 2009 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  17. Jim in San Jose

    John Boehner is a complete idiot and has existed in Congress for the sole purpose of playing petty politics. You can be the farm on the fact that is the situation was reversed, he would be all over the offending Democrat. It hurts when the shoe is on the other foot, doesn't it, Congressman Boehner?

    September 15, 2009 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  18. They call me "Tater Salad"

    The only thing Joe Wilson is lacking (other than a brain that works) is a white hood, a bull whip, and a burning cross! I'm white by the way!

    September 15, 2009 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  19. Lila

    LET IT GO. It's becoming a freakshow.

    September 15, 2009 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  20. Skye

    Prety soon there won't even be a Republican Party, HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. How many new young voters are registering Republican. HA HA HA HA HA HA

    September 15, 2009 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  21. Keith in Austin

    Pelosi is a sickining example of the WORST things in politics!

    Let's waste days bickering for political brownie points while the Country is going down the tubes! Put this menopausal idiot out to pasture in 2010! She is everything wrong for America and her current poll numbers show it!

    September 15, 2009 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  22. joe m

    i guess to some disrespecting a republican president is ok, but when the recipient is a democrat, then there needs to be all this public outcry. i think the president's example is what most should be following. he stood above the fray and accepted the apology given and then turned to trying to do something productive. this outcry and demand for something more from wilson is all politics. the people who voice support for this idiocy help put the rest of us hostage to the games that politicians have played for generations and through out history. time to end these games and anyone who considers themselves as reasonable and sensible should demand that these politicians get back to working to solve our real concerns. to play along just continues to empower them and victimize all of us.

    September 15, 2009 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  23. Anne E.

    This clown is saying "it's over."
    I hope his political career is over.

    September 15, 2009 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  24. JAY

    The democrats are doing this to get the health care debate off the chopping block, so they can push it down the throats of the American
    people, through the back door as usual.

    September 15, 2009 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  25. Counting the days until the Obamanation is GONE and America can prosper again

    It's amazing. The Democraps get all upset when a Republican makes a comment about the POTUS. However, it's okay to boss a Republican president. Hrmmm, can we say double standard? But, what's truly scary, is that the Democraps are now crying racism when someone doesn't agree with the great and mighty Obamanation. Yet, they disagreed fundamentally with Bush, and it wasn't racism then. Hello pot...meet kettle.

    September 15, 2009 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
1 2 3 4