By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
In a rare action, the House rebuked one of its members Tuesday for shouting "You lie!" at President Obama last Wednesday, ending a week-long 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 health-care speech before a joint session of Congress.
During the hour-long 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 not enough, 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 E. Clyburn (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 remark by a back-bench minority-party lawmaker. It encapsulated the increasing partisan tensions of the health-care debate, while igniting tensions among many black lawmakers who suggested that Obama is being treated harshly because some voters cannot accept him as the nation's first black president.
In the past six days, Wilson and his likely Democratic opponent in his 2010 reelection battle, Iraq veteran Rob Miller, have each raised more than $1.5 million through a frenzy of small donations to their campaigns, according to Democratic and Republican aides.
During the debate Tuesday, Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said, "This is nothing more than a partisan stunt."
Many Republicans huddled around Wilson, some hugging him, some shaking his hand, 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 H. Hoyer (Md.) were the only Democrats to speak in favor of the resolution. "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.
Staff writer Ben Pershing contributed to this report.