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 WilsonGOP calls for modernizing veteran care A recipe for wasteful spending: South Carolina Pork with Russian Dressing GOP struggles to find women to lead House committees MORE’s (S.C.) heckling of President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaFor Trump, foreign policy should begin and end with China Harvard spat between Clinton, Trump camps proves Dems can't accept Trump's improving Wrestling mogul McMahon could slam her way into Trump administration MORE during Wednesday night’s speech, the recent public questioning of Obama’s citizenship by Rep. Charles BoustanyCharles BoustanyLouisiana dishes last serving of political gumbo We can't let tax extenders obstruct comprehensive reform GOP seeks to make it 52 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.
“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 CantwellOvernight Energy: Dakota pipeline standoff heats up Obama rescinds Arctic offshore drilling proposal Overnight Energy: Hopes rise for Flint aid 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 CantorChamber of Commerce overhauls lobbying operation Laura Ingraham under consideration for White House press secretary VA Dems jockey for Kaine's seat 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 ReidTrump gets chance to remake the courts Democrats local party problem Trump flirts with Dems for Cabinet 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 CornynTrump gets chance to remake the courts Lawmakers eye early exit from Washington Victims of Nazi Art theft need Congress to HEAR 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 HatchMnuchin's former bank comes under scrutiny Trump’s economic team taking shape Huntsman considering run for Senate in 2018 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.”