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The Congressman Who Cried 'Lie!'

Thursday, September 10, 2009

President Obama was halfway through his speech, trying to dispel what he called "bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform." Then he ran into Rep. Joe Wilson's agenda for the night.

His plan would not insure illegal immigrants, said Obama. "You lie!" rang out in the chamber.

Federal funds would not pay for abortions, Obama continued. "Not true!" came another yell from the same spot in the chamber. Vice President Biden frowned. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi glared.

The hollerer was Wilson, a four-term Republican from South Carolina and former aide to the late Sen. Strom Thurmond. A lawyer with four sons who have served in the military, two in Iraq, Wilson has long aspired to statewide office. "I think Joe's very confrontational," said House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn. Wilson held his first health-care town hall forum last month in Clyburn's district, three blocks from his home.

Wilson's outburst drew a rebuke from Obama's 2008 presidential opponent. "Totally disrespectful. No place for it, and he should apologize," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Various House Democrats demanded the same. One sputtered that House rules may have been violated.

Later, Wilson apologized. But his verbal explosion had hit its mark and dominated post-speech TV debate.

Just 48 hours earlier, Obama had exhorted a labor union crowd: "It just goes to show you how one voice can change a room."

But he didn't mean to inspire Joe Wilson.

-- Ann Gerhart

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