The original moment came during President Barack Obama’s speech to Congress in 2009 as he was talking about health-care reform.
“There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false,” he said at the time. “The reforms — the reforms I am proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.”
“You lie!” someone yelled.
That someone was South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson — and now, eight years later, an indignant crowd at a town hall has returned the sentiment.
The Republican was speaking about Obamacare on Monday in Graniteville, near Augusta, when the crowd started chanting: “You lie! You lie! You lie!”
Chaotic scenes similar to this one have become a new normal at Republican town hall events across the United States, reminiscent of the tea party movement that intensified following Obama’s election in 2008. But now it’s the Republicans who are enduring “protests, sharp rebukes and emotional questions about what they see as a sharp turn in governance as well as the House and Senate’s willingness to check the White House,” The Washington Post’s Dan Zak and Terence Samuel wrote this year.
In fact, some GOP lawmakers have vowed not to hold town halls at all.
A town hall turned hot last month in Texas when Rep. Joe Barton (R) said he opposed federal legislation protecting women from violence because it is a state issue.
“Violence against women — that’s a national issue!” an attendee shouted. “That is an issue that impacts everyone, everywhere — not only in this country but everywhere.”
That statement then spurred more loud reactions from the group — with one attendee in particular prompting this response from the congressman: “You, sir, shut up.”
In Iowa, Sen. Joni Ernst (R) was verbally bashed by constituents when she expressed support for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who “was carefully vetted.” Ernst added: “She supports all types of education. I support all types of education.”
Several weeks ago, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) responded to his town hall criticism in kind, calling out one attendee for asking a “garbage” question and railing against others for not accepting President Trump’s win.
“Your last term! Your last term!” people were chanting by the end.
Graham then advised them he wasn’t worried about losing his job.
“Good! Good! Come on, bring it on! Bring it on!” Graham said.
“If I win, fine. If I don’t, fine. But here’s what you’re going to get from me. You’re going to get somebody that tells you exactly what I believe. And to everybody in this room, it’s okay to be mad. It’s okay to be upset.”
On Monday, Wilson, the South Carolina congressman, also answered questions on topics including environmental concerns such as climate change and Trump’s military strike against Syria, according to the Post and Courier.
“I was very pleased by the president’s response,” Wilson told reporters before the event, according to the newspapers. “And I would have supported the prior president if he had acted, but he didn’t. Where chemical weapons are used, there should be immediate action. Because if we don’t, sadly it’s an opportunity for chemical weapons to be used around the world and, we know, ultimately, within the United States.”
A spokeswoman for Wilson said that too much emphasis has been placed on one moment at the town hall.
“The clip being circulated of Congressman Wilson’s town hall last night shows less than a minute of a positive event that lasted nearly two hours where the congressman engaged with his constituents both in a town hall format and one-on-one after the official program ended,” spokeswoman Leacy Burke said in a statement to The Washington Post. “The congressman took great questions on a wide range of issues, from national security and North Korea to immigration.”
But when Wilson uttered those two sharp words — “you lie” — in 2009, even Obama’s opponent reprimanded the congressman.
“Totally disrespectful. No place for it, and he should apologize,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said, The Post reported at the time.
Wilson did apologize — but it wasn’t enough to make people forget.
“I moved here from somewhere else,” Dana Phillips, who lives in Aiken, S.C., told the Post and Courier. “If I had known before I moved here that this is the man who stood up in Washington, D.C., and yelled at our former president, I would not have moved here.”