One apology is enough, a digging-in-his-heels Rep. Joe Wilson said Sunday, challenging Democratic leaders who want him to say on the House floor that he’s sorry for yelling “You lie!” during President Barack Obama’s health care speech to Congress.
The leadership plans to propose a resolution of disapproval this week if the South Carolina Republican doesn’t publicly apologize to Congress. Such a measure would put lawmakers on the record as condemning those two words, uttered during last Wednesday’s prime-time speech, that have become a fundraising boon for the defiant Wilson and his Democratic challenger.
Wilson said a resolution would show that Democrats simply wanted to play politics and divert attention from a health care overhaul that is lagging in Congress.
“I am not going to apologize again. I apologized to the president on Wednesday night. I was advised then that, ‘Thank you, now let’s get on to a civil discussion of the issues,’” Wilson said. “I’ve apologized one time. The apology was accepted by the president, by the vice president, who I know. I am not apologizing again.”
In an interview taped Friday and broadcast Sunday evening, Obama said he accepted and appreciated Wilson’s apology, which was delivered through White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Obama said he preferred to move past the incident and focus on the broad health care overhaul that took him to the Capitol in the first place.
“See, this is part of what happens. I mean, it just_ it becomes a big circus instead of us focusing on health care,” a laughing Obama told CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the shouting was inappropriate.
“Well, there’s a time and a place for everything, and that was not the time or the place for that kind of comment,” he said. “This is not the time to be demonizing anybody, calling anybody names on either side. This is a time to try to work together to solve a practical problem. And we stand ready to do that if the president will meet us halfway.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., defended Wilson at a town hall meeting in Columbia, S.C., in Wilson’s district. “Joe made a mistake, but the president’s speech was awful,” Graham said.
“Joe was right about his concerns,” Graham said to cheers from a crowd of about 1,200. He called Obama’s plans for paying for the program “phony baloney.”
Obama described what he said was “a coarsening of our political dialogue” where “the loudest, shrillest voices get the most attention” in a nonstop news cycle.
“I think we’re debating something that has always been a source of controversy, and that’s not just health care, but also the structure and the size and the role of government,” Obama said. “That’s something that basically defines the left and the right in this country. And so, extremes on both sides get very agitated about that issue.”
Democratic leaders decided Thursday they would move forward with a resolution of disapproval unless Wilson — a conservative who won a 2001 special election to earn a seat in Congress — make a public apology for shouting after Obama said illegal immigrants would not be eligible for low-cost health care.
The Democratic proposals on health 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.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Minnesota Republican who might seek the White House in 2012, said Wilson’s concern is valid.
“Even if you have language that says illegal immigrants will not be a part of this program, unless you have the enforcement mechanism in place, it doesn’t mean much,” Pawlenty said. “In Minnesota, we have laws that say illegal immigrants won’t get many services, but unless somebody actually checks — guess what — they show up and they get the services.”
A spokesman for House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio said it’s time to move on.
Wilson said he allowed emotions to get away from him and compared his outburst to the outbursts that dominated coverage of August’s town hall meetings, when members of Congress were on the receiving end of screaming and shouting over the health care proposals.
But he added: “I will not be muzzled. I’m going to be speaking on behalf of the American people, but I will be doing it very civilly.”
Wilson said his critics want to use the incident to silence opponents of health care reform.
His Democratic challenger, Rob Miller, raised more than $1 million — more money than the roughly $625,000 he spent for a 2008 race he lost with 46 percent of the vote.
Wilson appeared on “Fox News Sunday.” Cornyn was on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Pawlenty was interviewed on ABC’s “This Week.”
Associated Press writer Jim Davenport in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.