Rep. Wilson's Admonishment A First For Congress

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Nearly a week after Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) interrupted President Obama's speech on health care, Congress passed a resolution admonishing him. He's the first member in the history of Congress to be formally chastised for heckling the president during an appearance on Capitol Hill.

At first, Democratic leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn't seem too interested in going after him for shouting "You lie!" when the president insisted that health care subsidies would not be available to illegal immigrants under the health care overhaul bill.

"As far as I'm concerned, the episode was unfortunate, and Mr. Wilson has apologized. It's time for us to talk about health care and not Mr. Wilson," Pelosi said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he didn't rush to action because he had been assured by Republican leaders that Wilson would apologize to his fellow members. Wilson had called the White House last week to apologize. But days passed and instead of saying sorry to the House, Wilson took to the airwaves to rally financial support, claiming he would not be muzzled by liberal critics.

Soon members of the congressional black caucus were insisting the incident not be ignored. Georgia Democrat Hank Johnson argued that by disrespecting the president, Wilson was encouraging racist elements in society against Obama.

"That's the logical conclusion if this kind of attitude is not rebuked," Wilson said.

Meanwhile, even members who supported the move, such as District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, wondered aloud whether Democrats weren't simply fueling the health care opposition by singling Wilson out.

"A better side of judgment may be to watch out that if it looks like we are trying to humiliate this guy, we play straight into their hands. I think he should man up, but I'm not sure we should push him to do it," she said.

It was fellow South Carolinian and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn who led the effort for a resolution rebuking Wilson. The resolution described his outburst as a "breach of decorum" and admonished the republican for "degrading the proceedings of a joint session."

"There are certain things that you do and certain things you don't do. And when you do the things that you don't do, the proper thing is to show contrition. Not the way you think is proper, but the accepted form of contrition," which Clyburn said would be to come to the floor and formally apologize. Wilson wasn't interested.

"I think it is clear to the American people that there are far more important issues facing this nation then what we are addressing right now," Wilson said. "The president said the time for games is over. I agree with the president, and he graciously accepted my apology and the issue is over."

And at least a dozen of his GOP colleagues lined up to support him, led by Minority Leader John Boehner.

"Never has this happened before — that we are going to bring a resolution of disapproving his behavior. My goodness, we could be doing this every day of the week," Boehner said. "The American people sent us here to solve the problems of our country. They didn't come here to talk about our behavior. They didn't send us here to do that. What they want us to do is deal with the issue of health care."

At the end of the day, the measure passed mostly along party lines, although a dozen Democrats voted against it and five simply voted present. Just seven republicans voted for the resolution. But don't expect the incident to fade away too soon. As a result of this episode, Wilson and his Democratic challenger in South Carolina, Rob Miller, have each seen their campaign donations jump by $1.5 million and counting.



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