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House plans action against Joe Wilson

By
September 12, 2009

Democratic leaders are planning a House vote early next week to admonish Republican Rep. Joe Wilson if he does not apologize on the House floor for yelling “You lie!” during President Barack Obama’s health care address to Congress.

National attention from the heckling episode has money pouring into Wilson’s campaign treasury and that of his 2010 Democratic challenger. Wilson had raised more than $700,000 since the incident as of Friday, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee. His opponent, Rob Miller, had received more than $1 million from 25,000 donors nationwide, said his campaign manager, Lindsay Zoeller.

Democratic leaders initially showed mixed interest in punishing Wilson. But they decided at a meeting late Thursday that they probably will propose a resolution of disapproval early next week if he doesn’t apologize to Congress, said Brendan Daly, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

While not a formal censure or reprimand, the resolution, if passed as expected, would put Congress on record as condemning Wilson’s conduct.

Wilson, who was criticized by Republicans and Democrats for his outburst, told Obama he was sorry shortly after the incident Wednesday night. But he has refused requests from both parties to apologize on the House floor. Wilson’s office says the congressman considers his initial apology sufficient.

Obama said Thursday he accepted Wilson’s apology, telling reporters that “we all make mistakes.” The White House said it considered the matter over, and Pelosi, D-Calif., initially said she wanted move on.

But many Democrats remain angry and have pressed for further action. They say Wilson clearly violated House rules.

“This is about how elected officials should be conducting themselves in the well of the U.S. House of Representatives,” Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking House Democrat, said in an interview Friday.

The White House had no comment on the plan for a House resolution.

Wilson also has taken a more combative tone since his apology.

In a video posted on his campaign Web site, he said he let his emotions get away from him during Obama’s speech but added, “I will not be muzzled. I will speak up and speak loudly.”

Wilson said his critics want to use the incident to silence opponents of health care reform.

“I need your help now,” he said, soliciting donations.

In 2008, Wilson took 54 percent of the vote in beating Miller, a former Marine.

For their rematch next year, Miller already has raised more money in the past two days than the roughly $625,000 he spent for that race.

Wilson spent nearly $1.3 million for the 2008 cycle. The health care industry — among South Carolina’s largest economic sectors — has traditionally been his top contributor.

His top 20 career donors include the American Hospital Association, the Lexington Medical Center and the American Dental Association, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Wilson shouted “You lie!” after Obama said in his address to Congress that illegal immigrants would not be eligible for low-cost health care.

The Democratic proposals explicitly prohibit spending any federal money to help illegal immigrants get health care. Still, Republicans say there aren’t sufficient citizenship verification requirements to ensure illegal immigrants are excluded.

Wilson, a former state senator elected to Congress in 2001, is known as a mild-mannered lawmaker with hard-line conservative views. But he has been confrontational in the past.

In 2003, Wilson called it “unseemly” and a “smear” for the mixed-race daughter of Sen. Strom Thurmond, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, to identify the longtime South Carolina senator as her father after his death. After a public outcry, he said he had the utmost respect for Washington-Williams.

Wilson returned to South Carolina on Friday morning and doesn’t plan to make any public appearances Friday or Saturday, his spokesman said.

About 40 people gathered Friday evening outside Wilson’s West Columbia office for a rally promoted on blogs. Wilson did not attend. But those gathered said they wanted to show support amid what they called attacks on Wilson’s character, and praised him as a hero.

Attendees wore shirts that read “Palin 2012″ and “Dare to say NO to Obama and Socialism!”

“Joe’s my hero. He said what we all wanted to say to Barack Obama,” said William Browning, 55.

“Maybe Joe shouldn’t have said it in that venue, but he’s apologized,” Browning said. “I hope he sticks to his guns. If they reprimand him, so be it.”

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Adcox reported from Columbia, S.C.