Republicans deny party runs risk of 'irresponsibility'

Senior House and Senate Republicans on Thursday denied that a trio of high-profile, inflammatory outbursts from their members is damaging the party or imperiling the chance for civility in the healthcare debate.

However, GOP party elders also sought to distance themselves from the incidents — Rep. Joe WilsonJoe WilsonLobbying World OPINION: We must reject toxic rhetoric after violence in Virginia Labor Department falters on fiduciary rule MORE’s (S.C.) heckling of President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaCotton: US policy should be regime change in Iran Chelsea Manning takes part in first Pride March Trump: Obama not leading the resistance MORE during Wednesday night’s speech, the recent public questioning of Obama’s citizenship by Rep. Charles BoustanyCharles BoustanyDemocrats, Republicans must work together to advance health care Lobbying World Former GOP rep joins K Street lobbying firm Capitol Counsel MORE Jr. (La.), who delivered Wednesday night’s GOP response, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s creation of the term “death panels” earlier this summer.

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Democrats on Thursday wasted no time tying the three examples together, accusing the GOP of appearing too immature to debate such an important issue.

“The ruckus at town halls may have made good theater for cable channels and the 24-hour news cycle, but that’s not where the majority of the American people is,” said one senior Democratic aide. “The majority of the American people are repulsed by the kinds of things they saw last night.”

“People want to hear about what we’re going to do to control healthcare costs,” said Sen. Maria CantwellMaria CantwellDems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity Overnight Regulation: Labor groups fear rollback of Obama worker protection rule | Trump regs czar advances in Senate | New FCC enforcement chief Dems urge Sessions to reject AT&T-Time Warner merger MORE (D-Wash.). “Their rates are going up astronomically, and they’re getting gouged. So when this kind of stuff happens, it’s not what they really want to hear about.”

Senate GOP Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and House Republican Whip Eric CantorEric CantorWhat to watch for in Comey’s testimony Trump nominates two new DOD officials Brat: New ObamaCare repeal bill has 'significant' changes MORE (Va.) both said that Wilson has publicly apologized for yelling “You lie!” at Obama, that they were unaware of Boustany’s past comments, and that Palin’s comments were unintentional. Both denied the party is running the risk of “irresponsibility,” as Obama charged on Wednesday night, but did acknowledge that tempers are near a tipping point.

“We all do need to dedicate ourselves to working in a civil manner to try and address a very important issue for the American people,” Cantor said.

Cantor said he was unaware of the so-called “silent protest” that many House Republicans practiced during Wednesday’s speech, in which members waved aloft copies of GOP bills at the president as he spoke. The House whip also said he was unaware that Boustany told a video blogger in July that “there are questions” about Obama’s citizenship, appearing to partly align himself with the so-called “birther” movement that has cast doubt on the president’s Hawaiian birthplace.

“I’m unfamiliar with any remarks that Rep. Boustany may or may not have made,” Cantor said. “He is a serious physician who is deep into healthcare policy, research and discussion, and he is a valued player in terms of this debate … I don’t see it as any definition of our party.”

Kyl called Palin’s use of the “death panel” phrase a “pejorative” term that was nothing more than a mistaken choice of words.

“Sometimes in politics you use colorful terms to short-cut a description of something,” Kyl said. “Maybe to be more accurate she shouldn’t have used a term like that. But I don’t think you can blame Sarah Palin for the president’s commentary last night, which was politically over the top, very ungracious.”

Republicans also noted that Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidCharles Koch thanks Harry Reid for helping his book sales Warren cautions Dems against infighting Dems see surge of new candidates MORE (D-Nev.) famously called President George W. Bush “a loser” and “a liar” at different times in recent years.

“These outbursts of incivility aren’t partisan. We should say they’re bipartisan,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John CornynJohn CornynCornyn: Passing Senate healthcare bill by July 4 ‘optimistic’ Sasse has 'nothing to announce' on GOP ObamaCare repeal Manhattan prosecutor: Gun law reciprocity bill ‘supported, I am sure, by ISIS’ MORE (Texas). “I don’t think there’s any risk of the party being defined by those sorts of things any more than there is of the Democratic Party being defined by Sen. Reid’s comments.”

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchTime to get Trump’s new antitrust cop on the beat Live coverage: Senate GOP unveils its ObamaCare repeal bill Grassley doesn't see how Judiciary 'can avoid' obstruction probe MORE (R-Utah) was among other Republicans who said Wilson, Palin and Boustany were simply “emotional.”

“I don’t think you can blame a whole party for two or three people who got emotional,” said Hatch. “People get emotional on this very important issue. But the fact of the matter is, that’s the most important office on earth from a political standpoint, and we ought to always show respect.”