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House chastises Rep. Joe Wilson over remark [Updated]

September 15, 2009 |  9:52 am

[Updated at 3:14: After spirited debate, the House of Representatives voted 240-179 to admonish Rep. Joe Wilson for his behavior during President Obama's recent address to Congress. Follow this link for a report from the House floor.]

Rep. Joe Wilson, who accused President Obama of being a liar during last week’s televised address to Congress on health policy, returns to the national spotlight today when the Democratic House considers whether the Republican's conduct merits a resolution of disapproval.

Wilson, who told the White House he was sorry for shouting “You lie!” at Obama, has refused to apologize a second time to the House for what most on both sides of the aisle consider at least a breach of manners and what liberals consider much worse. Obama quickly accepted Wilson’s apology last week, noting that everyone makes mistakes and that the South Carolina Republican’s interruption has taken the focus away from the issue of healthcare.

Despite the first apology, the issue won’t go away and why is an interesting example of what politics has become. Conservatives have seized on Wilson as the latest symbol of resistance to administration plans to reform health insurance after a summer of complaints about Obama.

Conservatives, some carrying guns, attended town halls across the nation, complaining of Obama’s healthcare proposals, the growth of government and even such inaccuracies as that Democrats plan to expand healthcare to illegal immigrants and to create death panels.

This morning, Wilson took to the floor and in a short speech noted the town hall meetings were full of “honest patriots” who “want us to work together for health insurance reform but not a government takeover.”

But for liberals and for African American lawmakers, the issue goes much further than rudeness and into the area of race relations. For liberals, Wilson represents the latest face of those who will never be comfortable with Obama, in part because he is the first African American president.

For Majority Whip James Clyburn, an African American and fellow South Carolinian who is pushing the House to act, Wilson’s outburst requires a resolution because of the extraordinary disrespect it showed to Obama. For many Democrats and especially African American leaders, not passing a resolution against Wilson would set a bad precedent.

If the resolution comes to a vote, expect essentially a party-line vote, though it will be intriguing which Democrats decide to back Wilson.

– Michael Muskal

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