By Mike Soraghan and Jared Allen - 09/10/09 03:23 PM EDT
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats should cease efforts to sanction Rep. Joe Wilson for shouting "You lie!" during the president's address.
While she said the South Carolina Republican's action was "stunning," and noted that lawmakers can be sanctioned for calling other lawmakers liars, she said she didn't want to dwell on the incident.
Democratic leaders were looking into what formal action the House may take against Wilson, whose outburst during the Wednesday night address has rocked the lower chamber. On the list was a move to censure him.
But Pelosi dismissed that idea, as well as a call for Wilson to apologize on the floor.
"I'm on to healthcare reform. I'm not going to discuss Joe Wilson," she said. "I think his action spoke for itself. He has apologized. He will figure out what is appropriate for him to do."
Asked about the rest of the Republican members' actions, such as shouting and waving their own bills in the air, Pelosi at first said she didn't pay attention.
"I was dazzled by the president's speech," she said, then added, "I think it shows the bankruptcy of their ideas."
House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) on Thursday said Wilson should apologize and that an inquiry into sanctions was under way.
“It’s clear that the members of our caucus are quite upset and quite angry,” Larson said after emerging from a Thursday morning meeting of the entire caucus. “We are also in the process of looking at what is appropriate conduct on the floor.”
Asked specifically about a possible censure, Larson said that would be looked into.
“Members are very keen about what kind of precedent and tradition this sets in the House,” he said. “And so I think first that all the research needs to be done, from a parliamentary standpoint and [of] the procedures that are the normal conduct of the House.”
After Obama told Congress that no illegal immigrants would receive public health insurance under his proposal, Wilson shouted: “You lie!” The comment that drew immediate looks of shock and disgust from Pelosi and Vice President Joe Biden soon overshadowed the entire GOP response to the presidential address.
Wilson issued an apology on Wednesday night.
“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 healthcare 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.”
Larson said Wilson needs to apologize much more formally.
“I think minimally, everybody aggress that there ought to be an apology, and certainly a public apology on the floor of the House for that incident,” Larson said. “Minimally.”
Even that won’t be enough for other Democrats.
“We have to take some action,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). “It’s not a partisan issue. The Congress must speak.”
Lewis did not say specifically if he believed Wilson should be censured, but he made clear his firm belief that the House must take formal action.
“You can’t have a member speak on the floor the way he did,” Lewis said. “The leadership on both sides need to get together and decide what needs to be done.”
Republican leaders had no immediate comments in reaction to statements from Larson and Lewis.
Some Republicans, though, are hoping they can avoid any further consequences from the incident.
"We think it was inappropriate; he apologized quickly; move on,” said a senior Republican aide.
Democratic lawmakers and liberal organizations, though, quickly seized on the episode as a way to rally the base and raise money.
Moveon.org blasted out an online petition to members that cited the Wilson outburst as a way to demand fast action on healthcare.
"We can't afford to let right-wing extremists like Joe Wilson hold health care reform hostage," said the Moveon.org email message entitled "You lie!."
Rep. Betsy Markey (D-Colo.) sent out a fundraising appeal Thursday morning focusing on Wilson.
"It's time we send a strong message that such behavior is unacceptable. We need to let the politicians in Washington who would disrupt this debate at all costs know that the American people won't stand for it," said the fundraising appeal, signed by Markey.
This article was updated at 11:51 a.m. and 12:50 a.m.