House Democrats formally condemned Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., for pointing his finger and shouting “You lie!” to President Obama during his health care speech to Congress.
The House voted 240 to 179, mostly along party lines, to disapprove of Wilson's actions following an hourlong debate led by former civil rights activist House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C.
“This resolution addresses an issue of great importance to current and former members of this august body, the proper conduct of its members,” Clyburn said. “This is not about partisan politics or inappropriate comments, to the contrary this is about the rules of the House and reprehensible conduct.”
The rules of the House prohibit lawmakers from making disparaging remarks about another person while in the chamber. Wilson, who made the remark after Obama told Congress his health care bill would not cover illegal immigrants, offered his apologies to the president immediately after the speech and issued a public statement, but refused Democratic demands that he repeat the apology from the House floor, leaving many angered by what they perceived to be a lack of respect for the nation's first black president.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus were among the most upset and some said that if the House did nothing to rebuke Wilson, it would stoke racial hatred and even encourage the kind of hateful acts carried out by the Ku Klux Klan.
But Republicans called the rebuke, which came in a motion to “disapprove of the behavior” exhibited by Wilson during the speech, pure partisan politics intended to distract the public from much tougher issues facing Congress, including health care reform, joblessness and runaway government spending.
“I think this is a sad day for the House,” Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio said. “This is nothing more than a partisan stunt aimed at trying to divert people from the real issues.”
Wilson took to the floor to defend himself, but he did not apologize. Instead, he said the resolution would do nothing to help constituents with joblessness and other pressing issues.
“It's time we move forward and get to work for the American people,” Wilson said.
Other Republicans used the debate to attack the Democratic health care bill and point out inaccuracies in what Obama said in his speech and the contents of his plan.
“I know he made the comment out of frustration because there seems to be a large gap between health care rhetoric and reality,” said Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla., who added that Wilson's remarks, “provided an opportunity to discuss the differences,” between the Democratic description of their health care plan and their actual 1,000-page bill.
Only two Democrats spoke on the motion, Clyburn and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer.
Twelve Democrats voted against the motion, seven Republicans voted for it while five Democrats voted “present.”