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Washington Sketch: Republicans Behaving Badly at Obama Speech

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The nastiness of August reached from the town halls into the Capitol as President Barack Obama spoke about his health care plan. South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson shouted "You lie!" after Obama talked about illegal immigrants. Video by AP

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The antics continued when Obama urged opponents to "come to me with a serious set of proposals." About 20 Republican members raised copies of the GOP health-reform proposal over their heads. They raised their props again when Obama criticized those who think "it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it."

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Even as Obama delivered a tribute to the late senator Ted Kennedy, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga), a leader of House conservatives, perused his BlackBerry. Shortly before the speech ended, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) walked out to beat the rush.

Above all, though, was Wilson's effrontery. From the reaction in the chamber -- one Democrat could be heard calling for him to be thrown out -- Wilson knew he had stepped in it. He shrugged, then consulted his BlackBerry. He puffed out his cheeks to exhale and licked his lips.

Toward the end of Obama's speech, the text of which was handed out before the congressman's outburst, was a fitting rebuke of the sort of behavior Wilson had just exhibited. When "we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter," Obama said, "we don't merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves."

As Obama spoke these words, Wilson twiddled his thumbs, then took his BlackBerry from its holster to consult it yet again. The speech ended, and, as his colleagues applauded, Wilson beat a hasty retreat.

An incensed White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel went up to GOP Reps. Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Paul Ryan (Wis.) to complain about the outburst. "No president has ever had that happen," Emanuel said. "My advice is he apologize immediately. You know my number."

Wilson did as Emanuel advised. After all that shouting, it's a wonder he wasn't too hoarse to place the call.


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