By Mike Soraghan - 09/15/09 11:58 PM EDT
House members formally scolded a defiant Rep. Joe Wilson on Tuesday evening for his “You lie!” outburst after his refusal to apologize on the House floor sparked a bitter debate in the chamber.
The House passed a “resolution of disapproval,” considered the mildest form of punishment for a member, by a 240-179 vote that fell largely along partisan lines. Seven Republicans voted to rebuke Wilson, while 12 Democrats voted against the measure. (READ THE FULL TEXT HERE)
“I think it is clear there are far more important issues than what we are doing right now,” Wilson said. “It is time we move on.”
The debate sparked an unusually personal debate between House leaders, with Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) calling the resolution a “partisan stunt.” Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) took offense and accused Boehner of misstating his facts.
“I want to tell my friend Mr. Boehner, I don’t participate in partisan stunts, and every member here knows that,” Clyburn said.
Republicans didn’t defend Wilson’s finger-pointing shout at Obama during last week’s joint session. But they stressed that Wilson had already apologized privately to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
“There’s been behavior around here far worse than this that didn’t bring a resolution,” Boehner said.
They also argued that Wilson was factually correct in challenging Obama’s assertion that his healthcare plan wouldn’t cover illegal immigrants.
“The broader national interest was served,” said Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), chairman of the House Republican Conference.
Clyburn, who pushed for the rebuke and did almost all the talking for the Democratic side, said the resolution wasn’t partisan. He said it was a simple matter of civility and enforcing the rules of the House.
“Silence gives consent,” Clyburn said. “We cannot be silent because we cannot consent to his conduct.”
The issue has become wedged in the rut of partisan politics. Wilson has become a hero to the “Tea Party” protesters who dominated coverage of town halls in August. At a march and rally last weekend, many “Joe Wilson for President” signs were waved next to giant photos of Obama with a Hitler moustache.
Wilson issued a video apology last week, but also declared, “I will not be muzzled.” He repeated that theme in his remarks on the floor, saying Democratic leadership “has muzzled the voices we represent.”
Since then, Wilson has raised more than $1 million, as has his Democratic opponent, Rob Miller.
To Democrats, Wilson’s outburst thrust the raucousness of the August town hall meetings to the House chamber on an occasion calling for the utmost dignity. They called it an unprecedented show of disrespect to both the President and the House itself.
“That’s why it never happened before,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said. “It happened when this country elected a president of color.”
Johnson suggested that Wilson’s action stoked racial hatred.
“I guess we’ll probably have folks putting on white hoods and white uniforms again and riding through the countryside intimidating people,” Johnson said. “That’s the logical conclusion if this kind of attitude is not rebuked, and Congressman Wilson represents at least the face of it.”
Most white Democrats, however, didn’t see racism behind the remarks, saying the issue was purely a matter of enforcing the rules of behavior in the House. Others said they simply wouldn’t speculate about his motives.
“I don’t think that’s what it’s about,” said Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.).
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, also demurred, but still nodded to a racial element.
“That’s hard to say; no one knows the hearts and minds of others,” Lee said. “But we also have to confront head on, in a respectful way, all of the issues that have not necessarily been addressed or completed and that has to do in many respects with the issue of race in America that many have not wanted to talk about.”