House rebukes Wilson


Rep. Joe Wilson with his wife, Roxanne, speaks to reporters Tuesday.  (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Rep. Joe Wilson with his wife, Roxanne, speaks to reporters Tuesday. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

WASHINGTON – In a rare action, the House rebuked one of its members Tuesday for shouting “You lie” at President Obama last Wednesday, ending a weeklong standoff during which Democrats demanded a public apology that the lawmaker refused to give.

On a largely party-line vote, the House voted 240 to 179 to ratify a “resolution of disapproval” against Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., for interrupting Obama’s speech last week before a joint session of Congress.

During the hourlong debate, Wilson refused to apologize, saying his private phone call to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was sufficient because Obama himself said the matter was closed the day after his speech.

“It is clear to the American people that there are far more important issues than what we are dealing with now. … (Obama) graciously accepted my apology, and this issue is over,” Wilson said in brief remarks. He is just the second lawmaker to be rebuked by the full House this decade.

But House Democrats responded that Wilson’s call to a presidential aide was insufficient because he had violated chamber rules forbidding such remarks directed at colleagues or the president. “This is about the rules of this House and reprehensible conduct,” said House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., who led the effort to censure Wilson.

A resolution of disapproval is the softest form of punishment that the House administers. But the debate over Wilson grew far beyond a simple remark made by a back-bench lawmaker in the minority. It encapsulated the increasing partisan tensions of the health-care debate, while also igniting tensions among many black lawmakers who suggested Obama was being treated so harshly because some voters could not accept him as the first black president.

In the last six days Wilson and his likely Democratic opponent in his 2010 re-election battle, Iraq veteran Rob Miller, have both raised more than $1.5 million through a frenzy of small-dollar donations pouring into their campaign accounts, according to Democratic and Republican aides.

“This is nothing more than a partisan stunt,” House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said during the debate.

Many Republicans huddled around Wilson during the debate, some hugging him, some shaking his hands, and after he spoke, a few members of the public in the House galleries clapped, drawing a warning about violating the chamber’s etiquette rules.

Clyburn and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., were the only Democrats to speak in favor of the resolution during debate. “This resolution is not about the substance of an issue but about the conduct we expect of one another in the course of doing our business,” Hoyer said.

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