House Admonishes Rep. Wilson For Outburst

The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to admonish Republican Congressman Joe Wilson on Tuesday for shouting out "You lie" at President Obama's speech last week to a joint session of Congress. The 240-179 vote reflected the partisan divide over the issue.

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The House of Representatives has voted to disapprove of Republican Congressman Joe Wilson's behavior. After Wilson yelled "you lie" last week during President Obama's health care speech, he apologized in a call to the White House.

But as NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports, some Democrats wanted an apology to Congress, as well - and Wilson refused.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Joe Wilson was in the House chamber for at least an hour before the resolution came up. He seemed calm and happy. And when the Republican from South Carolina finally took the floor, it sounded almost as if he would finally cave to the pressure that he's getting from his leaders and apologize formally.

Representative JOE WILSON (Republican, South Carolina): Mr. Speaker, I am humbled and grateful for the support and prayers to my wife Roxanne, my four sons, my staff, the people of South Carolina, my colleagues and the American people.

SEABROOK: But he would not.

Rep. WILSON: Mr. Speaker, I think it is clear to the American people that there are far more important issues facing this nation than what we're addressing right now.

SEABROOK: Wilson went on to say that he agreed with President Obama that Congress should move on from this. And then, he appeared to blame Democrats for the intense political environment.

Rep. WILSON: It is the Democrat leadership, in their rush to pass a very bad government health care plan that is bad medicine for America. It has muzzled the voices we represent and provoked partisanship.

SEABROOK: This seemed only to set off Democratic leaders more. They say this is not a partisan fight, but a matter of House conduct. It is unheard of and, in fact, against the House rules for a member of Congress to openly decry anyone addressing the chamber, much less the president of the United States, said South Carolina Democrat Jim Clyburn.

Representative JIM CLYBURN (Democrat, South Carolina): This hall is the most prominent classroom in this great country, and all of us are teachers. We are bound by duty and the offices we hold to conduct ourselves as such.

SEABROOK: Some Democrats said there were racial overtones to the issue; others demurred from the topic altogether, noting that Wilson is raising considerable reelection funds on the whole ordeal, as is his Democratic challenger. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said, this is about precedent and about how far leaders can let the current environment of charged partisan rancor go.

Representative STENY HOYER (Democrat, Maryland; House Majority Leader): What is at issue here is of importance to this House and to our country. And that issue is whether we are able to proceed with a degree of civility and decorum that our rules and our democracy contemplate and require.

SEABROOK: The actual resolution did nothing more than put the House on record as disapproving of Wilson's outburst. There are no actual sanctions involved. Still, Wilson stood his ground and refused to apologize to the end.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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