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The Congressman Who Shouted 'Lie' in a Crowded Chamber

By Ann Gerhart

President Obama was halfway through his speech, trying to dispel what he called "bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform." Then he ran into Rep. Joe Wilson's agenda for the night.

His plan would not insure illegal immigrants, said Obama. "You lie!" rang out in the chamber.
Federal funds would not pay for abortions, Obama continued. "Not true!" came another yell, from the same spot in the chamber. Vice President Biden frowned. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi looked alarmed.

The hollerer who made like a member of the British House of Commons was Wilson, a four-term Republican congressman from South Carolina, who long has had aspirations for statewide office.

After the speech, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel approached two Republican House leaders, Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) and said, "No president has ever had that happen." He urged them to have the lawmaker "apologize immediately."

Wilson's outburst drew a rebuke from Obama's 2008 presidential opponent. "Totally disrespectful, no place for it and he should apologize," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Various House Democrats demanded the same. One sputtered that House rules may have been violated.

Later, Wilson apologized. "This evening I let my emotions get the best of me," Wilson said. "While I disagree with the president's statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the President for this lack of civility."

But his verbal explosion had hit its mark.

Just 48 hours earlier, Obama had exhorted a labor union crowd: "It just goes to show you how one voice can change a room."

But he didn't mean to inspire Joe Wilson.

By Ann Gerhart  |  September 9, 2009; 10:39 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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South Carolina should be ashamed for voting this man into office. There is a related post at

Posted by: carlyt | September 9, 2009 11:37 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Joe, Glenn Beck-hysteria-clone, for elevating the level of national discourse on the important issue of health care.

Posted by: Ogguls | September 9, 2009 11:37 PM | Report abuse

You know, I used to be a republican. Now I truly despise them. I will never vote republican again. I truly hope the GOP fades out of existence. It has no value whatsoever.

Posted by: Jimdandy2 | September 9, 2009 11:41 PM | Report abuse

Emmanuel asked for the apology? Sensitive aren't we?

Posted by: Sixtus | September 9, 2009 11:49 PM | Report abuse

I was also a Republican...for 24 years. I left the party after Abu Ghraib and have not looked back. Joe Wilson's childish outburst is just Another Good Reason.

Funny that even this news was eclipsed in California by yet ANOTHER "family values" Republican caught in a sex scandal...this one complete with what appears to be a major ethics or even criminal violation by an Orange County Assemblyman.

The Republican Party has become a hollow shell. What did Rumsfeld say? Something about dead enders...

Posted by: lj51 | September 9, 2009 11:51 PM | Report abuse

The apology is inadequate. Rep. Wilson should either provide a citation for any of the proposed bills that calls for insuring illegal immigrants or he should apologize for calling the President of the United States a liar.

Then he should resign. He has shamed the citizens he represents.

Posted by: TXMM | September 9, 2009 11:56 PM | Report abuse

The Republican Party acted shameful tonight. They acted like a group of 1st graders who did not get their way. No they acted worse. I have never seen anyone act like that during a Presidential speech in my 55 years. I will never ever vote for a Republican after watching how they treated the ELECTED PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES tonight.

Posted by: jmwise | September 10, 2009 12:34 AM | Report abuse

More evidence that the GOP has devolved into petulant, school yard bullies who are used to getting their way, but are now encountering united resistance.

I'm sure Wilson is secretly enjoying his moment of ineffectual protest, but I'm hopeful the good people of South Carolina will send him home instead of re-electing him. Disgraceful.

Posted by: LincolnX | September 10, 2009 12:38 AM | Report abuse

Rep. Joe Wilson's "You lie!" pretty much sums up Obama's speech. Instead of the American flag this motto should be made the background of every speech our snake oil salesman delivers.

I am glad; finally one member of Congress let us in on what has been going on.

PS: Instead of making good on the millions of jobs Obama promised he will resolve our dilemma with a 3rd Reich health care bill. His plan might just work: Kill us so we no longer need jobs?

Posted by: west129 | September 10, 2009 12:58 AM | Report abuse

My, my how the liberals do get bent out of shape and all upset when a man has a passionate "outburst". We were all sitting at home screaming it at the television anyway. The American people were not born yesterday. We know the score with his administration and their continued broken promises and outright lies.

I applaud you, Joe Wilson for having the courage to say what the majority of us are thinking! I wished I lived in South Carolina, I'd give this man a parade. You can all be shocked and in horror at what Joe has done, but by golly I think he's more of a man than all of the Obama metrosexual administration put together!

Posted by: Daylo1 | September 10, 2009 1:13 AM | Report abuse

I thought I was a Democrat once when I was young, but Thank God, I grew up!

Posted by: Daylo1 | September 10, 2009 1:15 AM | Report abuse

There really is such a thing as "white trash," isn't there? It's such a nasty phrase, until now I would never think it or would use it. And yet, it exists in the form of Joe Wilson and his supporters.

So sad... Maybe we should send the Peace Corps and Vista down South to educate them and help them raise themselves from the muck.

Posted by: FedUp1 | September 10, 2009 2:13 AM | Report abuse

I looked at the Obama speech on Youtube in its entirety. A wonderful speech. Its final segment truly soared in its eloquent tribute to America and Americans: our individualism, our suspicion of government, our decency and innate fairness and concern for the other fellow.

Tom Wilson, you are not an American. Surrender your passport.

But guess who grabbed all the media coverage?

Posted by: wordsmith2 | September 10, 2009 5:19 AM | Report abuse

The republicans have degenerated into a band of uncouth morons. They have no plan to help this nation, but only want to hamper Obama as if its some game. They have done so much damage to this country they just need to go away.

Posted by: gilesjp | September 10, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Joe Wilson's ouburst was totally uncalled for and he should be ashamed.

The sad part is that his outburst speaks volumes louder than what he said, which was right on point: illegals will continue to have their health care funded by the rest of us. The 15 million or so illegals will continue to get their free health care in our emergency rooms. Obama himself said that those of us with insurance are subsidizing those without it when they go to the ER and skip out without paying. So, does the plan cover illegals? Of course it does, because there is no mechanism in his plan to make illegals pay for their own health care or to kick them out of the country.

Posted by: giantsfan | September 10, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Republicans are sore losers.

Posted by: fionalowther | September 10, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

I'm not surprised that some people think what Joe Wilson did was OK. I, however, am disgusted, angry and embarrassed. This was worse than the shoe-throwing incident . . . because it happened IN OUR HOUSE, ON AMERICAN SOIL!! And any American who remotely thinks it was OK needs to revisit what it means to be an American.

Posted by: EasternStar | September 10, 2009 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Joe Wilson showed disrespect for his PResident and Country. He should resign.
HE not only embarrassed himself but the world is watching. RESIGN ....

Posted by: barryaudrey | September 10, 2009 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Yes, illegals will be treated and here is a way to pay for it. Confirm what their country is and then the Emergency Room could bill our government and our government could bill that government. This way we don't pay for illegals. Oh, can I claim a $1000 charitable deduction on my taxes? President Obama said that's what it's costing me and every citizen.

Posted by: rmtaylor11 | September 10, 2009 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Joe Wilson and those of his ilk are not contributing to healthy discourse but rather spreading the divisiveness being fomented by conservative talk radio hosts. They do not want results but would prfer to wallow in the mud. Just don't ask me to to come to their party.

Posted by: jsloan512 | September 10, 2009 10:19 AM | Report abuse

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, Joe Wilson - For telling it like it is! You effectively told Obama what millions and millions of hard-working, THINKING Americans would love to tell him. Thanks for having the brass to do it for us!

Posted by: Rob3rt | September 10, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Another low from the party of no. It is time to replace that party with one that truly wants to represent Americans instead of wing nuts.
Joe wilson is just a symptom of hate and incompetence but probably does represent the uneducated of S.C. What red states need more than health care is an education system

Posted by: tplocki | September 10, 2009 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Joe Wilson's comment "you lie" was immature and disrespectful under the procedures of Congress - but, he was also correct. Illegal aliens in this country now receive free health care and will continue to do so. This is because there is a law that makes it illegal for hospitals to refuse care to anyone.

The sad part here, is once again, the politicians have the citizens attacking each other based only on the silly affiliation to the political parties. The primary purpose of the Democratic and Republican parties, is to divide the people against each other. This leaves the politicans free to rape and pillage America. Both sides lie and both sides are corrupt. There is no such thing as an honest politician!

Posted by: jbweb1 | September 10, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Wilson is the kind of politician that incites disrespectful behavior and hostile outbursts in a nation where free speech used to be honored. We need a return to civility and common respect for others views and Wilson should resign his office before he further damages South Carolina, a state I will not be returning to until he is gone, gone, gone!

Posted by: LeftRightFulcrum | September 10, 2009 10:51 AM | Report abuse

One Congressman said "in his 29 years in Congress he has never heard such an outburst." I am certain that Mr. Wilson thought it appropriate because there have been so many other incidents of disrespect toward President Obama. From everyone, including main stream as well as cable media addressing the President as Mr. Obama or Obama to second-guessing his every decision as if he and his administration are a bunch of imbeciles, to the disrepectful comments about his wife and his daughters,to the snide remarks of poor white trash like those pitiful Tea Partyers, birthers, tenthers and those health reform disrupters to rich white trash like McConnell, Bohener, Cantor, Palin, Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh. Coulter, Malkin and their ilk, Wilson felt it was OK to shout out "you lie" especially at a black man. The international community is watching closely, laughing at our hypocricy
and waiting for us to attempt to give them direction on "how to live" and on issues of human rights; they are going to throw your behavior right back in your stupid faces.

Posted by: flojo531 | September 10, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

JBWEB1's comment is only partially correct, the laws which preclude a hospital emergency room from denying all people service (including non-citizens) is intended to preserve life. If you happen to be unemployed and, therefore, without health insurance and your wealthy friend offer to pay for you to go with him on a vacation in England and you were hit by a bus, wouldn't you hope for compassion in the healthcare system to treat you and save your life even if you had no coverage? Of course you would.

This is not to say this is a parallel scenario to our emergency rooms being bogged down with uninsured people with a slight cough looking for antibiotics, but it makes the point about the specific law being referrenced.

The President did not lie about non-citizens not having access to the public health care insurance option. All people seeking the coverage will have to proove citizenship. This is a totally different issue from the emergency-medical-services-to-preserve-life law.

I do, however, agree that the two party system's only common agenda is to divide and conque the nation for their own political power.

Posted by: LeftRightFulcrum | September 10, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Someone should tell Wilson that he's 148 years too late to fire on Fort Sumter. Time for him to stop play-acting that he's flying the rebel battle-flag, and begin working for the benefit of the American people as a whole.

Posted by: tobeimeanpeter | September 10, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

I am in my sixties and never do I remember such infantile behavior from a Congressman toward a duly elected President speaking in an official capacity to both chambers of Congress. Clearly, the Republicans respond to President Obama in this manner because they fear his ideas, dislike him for reasons they themselves won't acknowledge, but also because they have no good plans of their own. To me, Rush Limbaugh exemplifies this approach. Whereas Joe Wilson has an electorate to answer to, shouting from the crowd, or in Limbaugh's case hiding behind a microphone akin to hiding behind a mother's skirts in the playground during recess, represents a bully's approach and exemplifies weakness. Wilson will face his constituents in an upcoming election forcing him to engage in a debate on some level. Limbaugh never engages in debate with any credible representative of the other side. He prefers his smears to go reported by the media but not challenged face-to-face. Such is the Republican party these days, bereft of class certainly but bereft of thoughtful ideas as well.

Posted by: hellerbernadine | September 10, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Well said leftrightfulcrum. ERs will remain full even if Health Insurance reform is passed. Only solution is to let them into the program. This way the hospitals would get paid and the non-citizens would have to buy the coverage.

Posted by: ThosO | September 10, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

This was appalling! I felt the same way each time the demonkrats booo-ed GW Bush. I just made a contribution to Con. Wilson's reelection campaign. It proves that "political correctness" didn't launder ALL truth out of the free speech clause of the Constitution.

Posted by: IQ168 | September 10, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

It seems to me that calling the commander in chief of our troops (and yes we are at war) a liar in front of the world is not only unpatriotic, but also could affect our troops morale. In addition, if this congressman acted out of an "emotional impulse"; can you imagine if he had a weapon with him at the time?

Posted by: periodico10 | September 10, 2009 1:56 PM | Report abuse

I have always voted for the candidate for whom I personally felt was the best person to lead this country, Democrat or Republican. I sort the issues and facts for myself and do not draw conclusions based upon media reports necessarily. I am an intelligent free thinker. I also have the wisdom to recognize nonsense when I hear it, and am able to parcel motives that are apparent from certain human behavior. I voted for Barack Obama in this past election because I feel he was and is the best in character, knowledge, judgement and foresight to lead this country back to dignity and prosperity for all Americans. Healthcare reform is a vital part of this process. The public option is an essential part of this grand scheme. While I have expensive healthcare coverage provided by my husband, and that I like, I am aware of the high cost of these premiums that are subtracted from his retirement pay, as well as the 30% co-pay (after annual mandatory deduction). Indeed his costs continue to rise. And even with this "good" insurance, my doctor avoids test that I need to fill his gap for HMO patients. This is just wrong! I clearly understand the President's message last night and support every participle of it as he described it. What I cannot tolerate are the rude, arrogant, old White men of the Republican party that sit before the President (any president), and act like children throwing temper tantrums. What I saw from the Republicans last night is a disgrace to this country and affronts the dignity of the office of the President. Eric Cantor looking like an owl sending emails. This is so ignorant and childlike. Joe Wilson couldn't contain himself because he and his disrespectful colleagues care more about the Presidents ethnicity, race, than the welfare of the American people. Wilson's cry out had no truth to it because the President had not lied. It is simply that the old Carolinian just couldn't contain his lynch mob mentality. The man only exemplified what the problem is with the Republican's objection to healthcare reform. I say as much for the so called "bluedog" Democrats as well. They too have the same problem with an African American President, Claire McCaskill included. They all disgust me because they disgrace this country.

Posted by: allowme1 | September 10, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe that Republicans want us to have national IDs that we need to show to get medical care because a few illegal aliens might get coverage. "Show us your papers"? Really? In America??

Posted by: Briefinator | September 10, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

I find it rather ironic that Joe Wilson is suffering the backlash of calling President Obama a liar and no one is calling President Obama on the carpet for calling Conservatives a liar. What is good for one should be good for the other. It would seem to me that respect is earned not freely given. Protocol would dictate that a speech not be interrupted however in defense of Joe Wilson he was feeling the pressure of his constituents and one can only overlook a certain amount of deception. Water reaches a boiling point and so does deception. The time is for honest communication not political rhetoric or a sales job. I applaud Joe Wilson for having the guts to do it. We need more like him, not less.

Posted by: leighwoods123 | September 10, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

What a shock, especially in the House of Represenatives. Have we lowered our standards that low that we can call the President of the United States a liar on National TV? Now I see why we can't get these two political sides to agree on anything with so called represenatives like wilson. What an embarrassment for the House Members and the citizens of the United States. I would like to apologize Mr President to you and your family for this idiot who couldn't hold his tounge.

Posted by: csubastian | September 10, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse

It appears that finally the mask is off. For decades the US has presented itself as the selfless nation sending its best and brightest around the world to 'help' nations that the current administration considers needs it.

Of course, most of these nations either had oil, geo-political importance or a government which did not accord with what Washington expected. Even the government of my own country, Australia, gained some notoriety in rightwing backrooms - which led to a bloodless coup in 1975.

But now, with this health reform bill, the rightwing ruling elite, and their non-thinking supporters, are rushing to the aid of the pharmaceutical, insurer and the share-holders in same.

Australia, and nearly every other 'civilised' country has affordable health care for its citizens. We don't consider ourselves 'communist', socialist, or any other label that can be thought up to play into irrational fears held by those who are easily swayed into moving against their 'own self-interest' Gore Vidal once put it in another context. No, we just want what is best for the majority. If that majority includes a few illegal aliens so what? If an illegal needs medical attention, I doubt that any doctor in Australia would deny it. Certainly not if that illegal was a child.

What a nasty mob are those who fight against this much needed bill. It isn't the poor who are eaten up with hatred, it is the rich. If you don't believe me, and every day I read more and more of their desperation. Joe Wilson, and the writer of this article, are a prime example of those who are prepared to sell themselves to vested interests.

Posted by: Lorraine1 | September 10, 2009 9:17 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Rmarks003 | September 11, 2009 12:47 AM | Report abuse

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