By Molly K. Hooper - 09/10/09 01:45 AM EDT
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) apologized Wednesday night for heckling President Barack Obama as a liar during the president's speech to a joint session of Congress.
Wilson shouted to the president "you lie" after Obama said illegal immigrants would not benefit from health insurance coverage from the reform bill. Obama glared disgustedly in the direction the remark came from, as did Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Vice President Joe Biden.
“This evening I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the president’s remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill,” Wilson said.
“While I disagree with the president’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility.”
House Democratic Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) called Wilson's outburst "embarrassing," while McCain said it was "totally disrespectful" and that there was "no place for it in that setting or any other."
McCain said Wilson “should apologize for it immediately.”
Clyburn said South Carolina was already suffering because of Gov. Mark Sanford. "Now we got one of out Congresspeople to drive our reputation to a new low."
Sanford has endured calls for his resignation after admitting to an affair.
Another Democratic leader, Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), said who ever made the remark should apologize but did not name Wilson.
The incident was reminiscent of the town halls across the country that came to define Obama and the Democratic Party's problems with healthcare during a tough August recess. Democratic senators and House members, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) were frequently heckled by constituents during the town halls, and the rowdiest events became staples of cable news.
Hoyer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in August penned a letter to USA Today that termed those trying to shout down lawmakers or fellow citizens at town halls “un-American.”
Obama's speech to Congress on Wednesday was intended to regain control of the debate for the White House.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he has never witnessed such a scene in 35 years of watching presidential addresses.
"I've never seen anything like it," Leahy said. "I talked to a number of my Republican friends on the way out who were mortified and angry that someone would do that.
"I've been in situations with presidents with whom I absolutely disagreed with," said Leahy, who had a memorable exchange in 2004 on the Senate floor with Vice President Dick Cheney. After criticizing the vice president about his ties to Halliburton, Cheney used an obsenity with Leahy.
Still, Leahy said he hadn't seen anything like a lawmaker calling the president a liar during an address to Congress.
“But nobody — nobody — ever has done anything like that,” he said. “He is the head of government for our country.”
Reid Wilson contributed to this story.
This story was updated at 10:38 p.m.