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 WilsonTillerson’s No. 2 faces questions over State cyber closure GOP worries as state Dems outperform in special elections Navy official: Budget, readiness issues led to ship collisions MORE’s (S.C.) heckling of President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAll five living former presidents to attend hurricane relief concert Overnight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Interior moves to delay Obama’s methane leak rule MORE during Wednesday night’s speech, the recent public questioning of Obama’s citizenship by Rep. Charles BoustanyCharles William BoustanyControversial House Republican gains national attention after filming Auschwitz video Democrats, Republicans must work together to advance health care Lobbying World 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 Elaine CantwellUse tax reform to strengthen what’s working: The low-income housing tax credit Senate energy bill is misguided gift to Trump’s dirty fossil fuel agenda Help states solve their housing problems with the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act 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 CantorEric Cantor offering advice to end ‘immigration wars’ Trump's olive branch differs from the golden eras of bipartisanship After divisive rally, Trump calls for unity 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 ReidChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies Republicans are headed for a disappointing end to their year in power Obama's HHS secretary could testify in Menendez trial 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 CornynGun proposal picks up GOP support House bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Republicans jockey for position on immigration 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 Grant HatchGOP eyes limits on investor tax break Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Overnight Finance: White House requests B for disaster relief | Ex-Equifax chief grilled over stock sales | House panel approves B for border wall | Tax plan puts swing-state Republicans in tough spot 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.”