WASHINGTON—The Democratic-controlled House today voted to admonish Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) for heckling President Obama during his healthcare address to Congress last week, heightening partisan tensions in the Capitol.
Although the lawmaker apologized to the White House for shouting out "You lie," Democrats have insisted that Wilson again say he's sorry -- this time from the House floor.
But Wilson has refused to apologize again, and the Republican leadership has backed him, noting that the president accepted the congressman's first apology.
Wilson told his colleagues on the House floor today: "I think it is clear to the American people that there are far more important issues facing this nation than what we are addressing right now. . . . [The president] graciously accepted my apology, and the issue is over."
But a number of Democratic lawmakers contended that Wilson's outburst had been a breach of decorum and that he had brought "discredit to the House" when he accused Obama of lying when the president asserted that his healthcare overhaul would not benefit illegal immigrants.
The 240-179 vote for a resolution of House disapproval of Wilson's act was cast largely along party lines.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) initially thought that the public rebuke would serve as a distraction from the healthcare debate but yielded to lawmakers, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who said Wilson's outburst was a sign of disrespect of the nation's first African American president.
"I guess we'll probably have folks putting on white hoods again," Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said. "That's the logical conclusion if this kind of attitude is not rebuked."
Still, some Democrats were ambivalent about a public rebuke.
"I think he should man up, but I'm not sure we should push him to do it," said Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who is Washington, D.C.'s delegate in Congress. "If it looks like we're trying to humiliate the guy, we play straight into their hands."
Rep. Paul W. Hodes (D-N.H.), who voted against the resolution chastising Wilson, said, "It's time to move on. We should not allow Mr. Wilson's reckless conduct to overshadow the need to work together to craft a strong healthcare reform measure."
Wilson has become a hero to the right, raking in more than $1.5 million in campaign contributions since Obama's address Wednesday night, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee. Rob Miller, his likely Democratic challenger, has raised a similar amount.
A USA Today/Gallup national poll released Monday found that 68% of those surveyed disapproved of Wilson's outburst.
Wilson posted on his campaign website a video of his wife, Roxanne, saying that she asked her husband after Obama's speech, "Who's the nut who hollered out, 'You lie'?"
But she said her husband was reflecting the passionate views of his constituents whom he saw at town halls.
"My husband doesn't deserve the treatment he's getting from Congress," she says.
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said, "Democrats don't want an apology. They want a sideshow -- something to shift the focus away from their government-run experiment on healthcare."
The White House took a hands-off approach. Asked about the rebuke, While House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said, "That's House business."