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House Begins Debate Over Whether to Rebuke Wilson

By Paul Kane and Ben Pershing
The House has begun an hour-long debate Tuesday on a resolution rebuking Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), whose heckling of President Obama last Wednesday sparked a week's worth of controversy increasingly tinged by allegations of racism.

As the debate neared, Wilson took the chair in the House chamber usually reserved for the Republican manager of floor debate, scribbling marks down on what appeared to be a short speech. GOP aides said that they expect Wilson will address the House.

After shouting "You lie!" at Obama during his address to a joint session of Congress in the House chamber, Wilson issued a statement of apology and also called the White House to say the same. But he has steadfastly refused to apologize on the House floor, a step that Democrats, led by House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (S.C.), say is necessary as a sign of respect both to the president and to the body's rules of decorum.

The resolution states: "Whereas the conduct of the Representative from South Carolina was a breach of decorum and degraded the proceedings of the joint session, to the discredit of the House: Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the House of Representatives disapproves of the behavior of the Representative from South Carolina, Mr. Wilson, during the joint session of Congress."

The debate comes as tensions are rising in the House over the perceived racial implications of Wilson's outburst and the ensuing controversy.

Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus amplified on Tuesday their complaints that Wilson's shout was symptomatic of the the increasingly heated rhetoric directed at Obama throughout the summer as the health-care debate wore on, including posters shown outside the Capitol on Saturday depicting the president with an Adolf Hitler mustache. They suggested that not reprimanding Wilson would further incite what they consider hate speech.

"I guess we'll have folks putting on white hoods and robes again and riding through the countryside intimidating people," Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), a CBC member, told reporters Tuesday afternoon. "That's the logical conclusion if this kind of attitude is not rebuked. That's why I'm for this resolution."

Republicans rejected this accusation and said that the American people had grown deeply concerned about the economic downturn and the resulting government involvement in the financial markets and auto industry has left voters angry. "As all of us have seen over the last several weeks, perhaps months, there is a real fear out there across this country that somehow we are losing the grip on the America that we all know and love," House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Tuesday morning.

Other Democrats continued to stress that the reason for the resolution was to rebuke Wilson for his conduct -- interrupting the president during an address -- rather than the substance of what he said.

The resolution is being offered by Hoyer and Clyburn. Clyburn is the highest-ranking African American in Congress, and the South Carolina Democrat has been the leading voice in favor of the resolution against Wilson, his home-state colleague. Hoyer, a former leader of the administration committee that oversees chamber rules, is viewed as the party's pre-eminent expert on institutional regulations.

Hoyer told reporters that he did not see a racial motivation in Wilson's outburst, but he said that the protests around the country "have been unusually harsh ... unusually vitriolic."

"I hope they're not racially motivated," he said.

Democrats are eager to emphasize that Wilson's words violated House guidelines. To bolster that argument, the House Rules Committee issued a memo Tuesday on "Decorum in the House and in Committees."

"As a guide for debate, it is permissible in debate to challenge the President on matters of policy," the memo states. "The difference is one between political criticism and personally offensive criticism."

Specifically, the memo adds, "it has been held that a member could not call the President a 'liar.' "

Some Democrats have expressed wariness of Tuesday's vote, warning that the Wilson controversy is distracting from the more important issue of health-care reform. And privately, some in the party worry about exacerbating a fight that has energized the Republican base and drawn more attention to the politically treacherous topic of illegal immigration. At the same time, some Republicans believe that Wilson's behavior merits an apology on the House floor.

But despite those few defectors, the vote to rebuke Wilson is expected to fall largely along party lines.

By Ben Pershing  |  September 15, 2009; 4:18 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform , House  
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I wish those democrats not wanting to further antagonize the republican base are the same ones holding out on the public option. During the Bush years if you even uttered any disagreement with the President you were called a traitor to the country branded treasonous. Democrats howl and get a backbone.

I'm sick of you guys always waffling, remember when you were locked out of the chamber. Where is the President, the time is now.

you have the power when you seize the power and you are handing it over. Cut this guys staff, change his parking spot, do it all.

I'm getting ticked off just writing this.

Posted by: mheron75 | September 15, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Here's an idea: the best rebuke would be to pass a freaking bill. Stop wasting time and get America fair and affordable health care.

Posted by: Alsatian1 | September 15, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Cantor says this vote is a "partisan stunt". I suppose Cantor would call Wilson's outburst during the joint session a "nonpartisan" stunt?

Cantor then goes on to decry the vote and urge the House to get back to the "business of the people" and "work together on those issues where we can find agreement."

What a bunch of hogwash. On what issues do republicans agree with democrats?

If Cantor is "republican leadership," it's no wonder the party is doing so badly in national elections.

Posted by: dastubbs | September 15, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse


There is a difference between calling someone a "traitor" and actually prosecuting them for treason. Regardless of whether other Reps have said anything similar to Clinton, or Dems did to Bush, neither side has ever been the subject of a formal reprimand for it -- sorry that you are getting "ticked off" but those are the facts -- according to the Office of the House Historian, this would be the first time in the 220-year history of the House that a member had been admonished for speaking out while the president was giving an address.

YOUR side is escalating this partisan fight.

Posted by: JakeD | September 15, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Congress has been wasting a lot of time lately. I don't think Congress has been any good since before the (foolish) Clinton impeachment. It was great in the 1980s, great in the 1990s, and then a disaster under the Republican super-majority, and now an even bigger disaster under Nutso Pelosi with her radical agenda of turning this country into an economic fantasy land full of government provided moral depravity. Shining City on the Hill to Sodom and Gomorrah. Total disgrace.

Posted by: chrojo01 | September 15, 2009 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Funny, many of these same democratic representatives would have violated their own resolution with respect to President Bush-I guess partisanship trumps hypocrisy.

Let me know when Tax Cheat Rangel and Earmark Maestro Murtha get their own censure resolution since what they have done is significantly worse than what Wilson did

Posted by: TexasProud1 | September 15, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Decorum in the House? Get real. Let's respond to a stupid and futile gesture with stupid and futile resolution. What a bunch of jokers.

Posted by: loux24 | September 15, 2009 5:22 PM | Report abuse

I'm a Democrat. I think the Republican Party is all about racism. But I really think this is a waste of time.

Posted by: wilderfield1 | September 15, 2009 5:28 PM | Report abuse

I'm old enough to remember when Bush bailed out Wall Street and Detroit:

** Republicans rejected this accusation and said that the American people had grown deeply concerned about the economic downturn and the resulting government involvement in the financial markets and auto industry **

It's still all the Republican Party's fault--

Posted by: lichtme | September 15, 2009 5:30 PM | Report abuse

They should make Joe Wilson sit in a corner, wearing a 'dunce' cap that says "I'm a stupid republotard" (with the 'r' written backward) for the rest of his term in congress.

Posted by: Heerman532 | September 15, 2009 5:36 PM | Report abuse

The Democratic response is appropriate--to let this pass would be to invite worse. Race continues to be a sensitive issue in this country, and there are politicians cynical and soulless enough to play on it. The behavior of right-wing extremists and their handlers over the past weeks--to rabble-rouse in a time of such pain and stress for so many people--shows an appalling lack of conscience and basic concern for safety. Liberals have too often wrongly assumed goodwill on the part of their enemies. The sad truth is that some people demonstrate by their actions that they care only for power over others, at any cost; therefore, they must be punished and controlled.

Posted by: sjohnston1 | September 15, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

The response to this outburst is ridiculous. It angers me that people are now calling Wilson's response racially motivated. They have to bring race into everything and they can't focus on the issue. Wilson didn't call Obama any racial slurs or make any references. Wilson was passionate about the issue and it came out during the speech. It was wasn't very polite, but it was about the issue and nothing more. This kind of reaction to his outburst does nothing more than to cause more racial tension. Americans get frustrated with the fact that they have to be extremely sensitive to people who are itching to call anything racist or sexist. Hank Johnson's response shows me just how idiotic he is. Somehow, he made the jump from calling someone a liar, to people in "white hoods and robes again and riding through the countryside intimidating people". Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Posted by: jb101 | September 15, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

ACORN has been raping the coffers of this country for years but let's focus on a empty apology instead. Good move lib--turds; keep it up and your days are surely numbered.

Posted by: Bcamp55 | September 15, 2009 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Wait till the people who voted for this resolution see how we rebuke them. These are the same people that have supported legislation that has set up us for fiscal disaster and destroyed the standard of living for the next generation. These are the same people that will try to ram a healthcare plan down or throats that will give us care rationing. We will rebuke then when we vote them all out of office. The voters will have the final say!

Posted by: AngryMobVoter | September 15, 2009 5:48 PM | Report abuse

House rules say you can't call the POTUS a liar on the floor when the House is in session. Wilson did. Censure the "Gentleman" from South Carolina for his outburst of "Southern" charm.

Posted by: thebobbob | September 15, 2009 5:48 PM | Report abuse


Rep. Pete Stark called GWB a liar on the floor when the House was in session too.

Why the double standard?

Posted by: JakeD | September 15, 2009 5:52 PM | Report abuse

Obama, Pelosi & Reed's noses (along with others) grow longer every day. These people are liars. Wilson should have said "you are a liar" instead of "you lie". What is so wrong with a person who the American people voted into office telling the truth for once as Wilson did? I sincerely believe that these liberals will turn this country into a socialist nation. We Americans need to take them very, very seriously and vote the socialist liberals out!!!!! Acorn is an example of a perverted, crooked organization supported by Obama, Pelosi, etc.

Posted by: libertymeanslife | September 15, 2009 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Hilarious. People have quickly forgotten the speech by Obama, but Joe Wilson lives on. No to government run health care, no to cap and tax, stop spending money, stop printing money, stop plunging our Nation into a hole of debt we will never be able to climb out of.

Let's see how this works out in 2010. Change you can count on that is coming.

Posted by: Bubbette1 | September 15, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Wilson is the Poster Boy for the Republican Party. Dumb, big mouth, confirmed racist, hates anything not approved by the Grand Cyclops of talk-radio & most of all, they're the minority party so they have to draw attention to themselves any way they can. How soon they all forget last November, the party of hate was soundly defeated. They don't understand, Americans don't like them !!

Posted by: wasaUFO | September 15, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Wow so "you lie" is racist now? You liberals are pathetic.

Posted by: Cryos | September 15, 2009 6:01 PM | Report abuse

At least there were 23 level-headed Democrats who didn't vote for the "disapproval" of Rep. Wilson (R-SC):

Arcuri, Delahunt, Giffords, Hinchey, Hodes, Kucinich, Maffei, Massa, McDermott, Moore, Taylor, Teague, Engel, Foster, Frank, Shea-Porter, Skelton, Ackerman, Lynch, Sestak, Tanner, Velázquez, and (shockingly) Maxine Waters (D-CA).

Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) is a hypocrite!

Posted by: JakeD | September 15, 2009 6:17 PM | Report abuse

The games are played by the rules. The House could not overlook the behavior and conduct of the Representative Wilson of South Carolina who was, indeed, in a breach of decorum and degraded the proceedings of the joints session. Mr. Wilson yelled, "You lie!"

This was not two simple words. At issue is sociocultural background of Mr. Wilson. The Congressman, as reported by the New York Times and me at Facebook, comes from the South that is still fighting the Civil War and thinks it belongs to Confederacy! Mr. Wilson belongs to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, "led a 2000 campaign to keep the Confederate Flag waiving above South Carolina's state Capitol and denounced as a "smear" the true claim of a black woman that she claimed the daughter of Strom Thurmond, the 48 segregationist candidate for president."

During the Bush presidency, he supported and nurtured the South's segregationist doctrine. As a matter of fact, the Republican Party is nothing more than the South region party. Mr. Bush's condoning of Confederate flag and his speech in a Southern university, clearly divided the America. East and West became "those liberals," and we the neoconservative Confederates. What a shame. The Republican Party has a lot of soul searching if they want to become a legitimate national party. Mr. Wilson is another "paranoid" who is still fighting the Civil War that the South lost. President Obama, it appears, causing delusional reaction for people like Mr. Wilson.

Posted by: pmjrn22 | September 15, 2009 6:18 PM | Report abuse

Let's face it this guy Wilson is a loud mouthed, teenager. He is the kind of guy that would cut into line in front of people that he thought were weaker and smaller than him. How he got elected is anybody's guess. But it just goes to show you that there must be something in the water in South Carolina that retards mental development in the majority of the people, at least the white ones.

Posted by: Jimdandy2 | September 15, 2009 9:21 PM | Report abuse

Well there goes another right, the house is telling everyone that you have to say you are sorry when YOU TELL THE TRUTH. Because the way I see it Obama has lied ever since he has been in office,
1) Our boys are still in a war that we can't win.
2) He has raised taxes,like he said he wouldn't.
3) He is still printing and spending like there is no tomorrow.
4) He is trying to take our guns.
5) He is trying to take our freedom of speech.
6) He can't even help keep our streets safe.
Everyone of these are reasons for impeachment, JUST LIKE BUSH, and all the American people are going to do is watch their TVs, and wake up in a new world every day. They can't miss their survior, stupid program while their country goes to Hell.

Posted by: Vic5440 | September 16, 2009 12:13 AM | Report abuse

When is the STUPID American people going to understand it's NOT a PARTY PROBLEM it's a GOVERNMENT PROBLEM, They DON'T care about US, like TED Kennedy, they only care about themselves, Republician AND Democrat alike. They all argue on the tube, then all go out drinking after hours, it has been going on like this since LBJ. The American people are BLIND and DUMB. They're spending millions on beaches that get washed away every storm, so they can spend millions on more sand. The GOVERNMENT can do one thing good, SPEND OUR MONEY, NOT THEIRS, just like Ted Kennedt worth millions and gave less that $3,000 to charity yet he loved helping the needy. And you all wonder why everything they touch is BROKE. If you think healthcare is high now, wait till its free. Come on people, educate yourselves, while you are still allowed. Don't be sheep all your life.

Posted by: Vic5440 | September 16, 2009 12:40 AM | Report abuse

It seems like a lot of people don't understand what this is really about. This is the first time a member of Congress shouted an insult directly to the president, to his face, interupting the president while giving a formal speech at a joint session of Congress. There is a protocol the members are supposed to follow. Wilson broke the rules. If there are no consequences for this kind of behavior it will set a precedent for the future. I am sure neither side wants their president to be treated in such a manner.

Posted by: Snookie2 | September 16, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

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