The First Draft: Congressman Wilson’s big moment

September 10, 2009

USA-HEALTHCARE/OBAMAThe dust is settling — and the political haggling is resuming — after President Barack Obama’s healthcare speech to Congress last night, but the spotlight is still shining, though not very flatteringly, on Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina.

If you watched on TV, you might not have seen him, but you probably heard a catcall from the House chamber when Obama told the audience that illegal aliens would not be covered by the proposed healthcare plan. That was Wilson, a Republican, shouting out, “You lie!”

Problem is, Obama spoke the truth on that point, and other Republicans acknowledged that. Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who ran against Obama for the presidency last year, told NBC’s “Today” show that the plan would not cover illegal immigrants. Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, one of Obama’s most vocal congressional critics, said the same thing on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Cantor and others noted that Wilson apologized, and Vice President Joe Biden figured that Obama would accept that apology. Still, feathers were ruffled.

“I was embarrassed for a chamber and a Congress that I love,” Biden said on NBC. “I thought it demeaned the institution … That was very very damaging.”

But really, what’s the big deal? Mostly, it’s considered bad form to diss the president of the United States when he comes to address the country’s highest legislative body. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said as much in a complaint to Republican congressmen about Wilson’s behavior: “No president has ever had that happen. My advice is he apologize immediately. You know my number.”

UPDATE: Wilson called Emanuel last night to apologize and the apology was accepted on behalf of the president, according to an administration official. 

The New York Times called it a breach of protocol. The Washington Post‘s normally humorous political theater columnist was unamused, calling conduct by Wilson and other hecklers “appalling.” CNN’s user-generated I-report site was filled with responses such as “You are disrespectful sir.”

No word from Wilson on his official House of Representatives Web site. It was “down for maintenance” early today. But he did say in his apology “I let my emotions get the best of me” as explanation.

For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Young (U.S. Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina listens to President Obama’s speech to a joint session of the Congress in Washington)


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Keep yelling, Joe! Dems can’t take a little yelling of the TRUTH? Republicans should keep yelling until the usurper is gone. I stand with the Republicans and yell too! OBAMA, WHERE IS YOUR BIRTH CERTIFICATE?

Posted by John C | Report as abusive

FACT CHECK on comment by Rahm Emmanuel. This DID occur in 2005 to President Bush, when a few Democrats “BOO’D” Bush during a major speech.
So what is good for Sir Goose is good for Sir Gander, Mr. Rahm. Get your facts straight……

Posted by NakedPatriot | Report as abusive

It is regrettable that Congressman Wilson had to diminish the decorum of the joint session but someone had to say it! President Obama set the tone of the address and Congressman Wilson responded, in kind. President Obama is playing with the semantics of the wording of the bills. The fact that the bills do not prohibit access to illegal aliens does not change the intent to provide coverage to illegal aliens. Amendments have been submitted to specifically prohibit coverage and the amendments have been defeated. It reminds me of President Clinto argueing the meaning of the word :is”.

Posted by Robert Johnson | Report as abusive

Wilson like all the congressmen and senators from south state still don’t understand they lost the war. they’re still fighting the CIvil War, the same way the arabs are still talking about the crusades. Get over it. Joe Wilson spent 3 yrs in the USAR and 30 yrs in the national guard retiring a Col. As a Col. he should be an example like Colin Powell. He didn’t like what was happening in the Bush administration but he keep his mouth shut. Joe Wilson is the product of nation guard: No discipline until they experience the real army like in Iraq. It’s sour grapes the republican lost the elections: both houses of congress and the presidency. Grow up or leave.

Posted by J downes | Report as abusive

In a way Wilson did the country a service by essentially bringing into higher relief the fact that the health care plan does not cover illegal immigrants. He unfortunately did so in a manner quite unbecoming a Representative of the great State of South Carolina, or any other State, we as a people essentially. Nobody wants to act upon deceit or lies and so now that we know the truth we can feel better. This service however is darkly over shadowed. In my opinion he also has exemplified a major issue within the Republican Party today which arguably suffers from a lack of leadership and vision with the end result of projecting the party and its members as having an unquenchable thirst for humiliating themselves in public over the healthcare reform issue. The party of “No”, is essentially now the party of “let them eat cake” to borrow from an old and tested adage. I made an attempt to correspond to Representative Wilson through his website this morning however due to the volume of traffic to the site there is no access, so I will have to try again later. Well wishers perhaps ? Probably not as many as he would hope. Making friends is always a better political move than making enemies, and his corpulent fragment of a rant is unfortunate. I hope Representative Wilson will soon look upon health care reform as a means that not only fulfills America’s moral obligation to its people, but also will view universal coverage as a way to vest in the human capital of this country, something needed if we are to compete in the future. Healthy people make better students, and are more productive. Unhealthy people are apt to work less. There is also the question of the economy and the benefit which may occur from retail spending from reallocated health insurance and care costs. I have been to South Carolina, and do not understand why the Representative in Congress does not believe that the State would benefit from reform. I would also like to see medical tort reform, but another day

Posted by John M | Report as abusive

South Carolina seems to have an excess of men who cannot control their lips or their zippers. But that could quite possibly be the Darwinian explanation of why there are so many of them.

Posted by colorado mountain independent | Report as abusive

It was a cowardly, cheap shot as it is when anyone heckles a speaker. Joe should have waited until the president was finished speaking before responding. Isn’t this what we tell our children? If Joe cannot act like an adult, he has no business on the floor.

Posted by kyle | Report as abusive

Obama says that 47 million Americans are uninsured and it must be corrected. If illegals are not counted the number is 37 million. So he either lied last night or he lies everyday. But Joe is correct that he is a liar!

Posted by rbasher | Report as abusive

To J downes:
Why bring up a war 150 years ago? What about Congressman Wilson made you think he was referring to the Civil War? You mention his military service like he led the Rebels last week! So, to follow your line of thinking; all southerns are still carring a rebel flag? You know, North vs South was just not in the mix. It was an American disagreeing with an American. The same way the Democrates boo’d Bush in 2005. YOU GET OVER IT! It seems to be your issue – no one elses.

Just because someone is from the south, the north, black or white does not make them racist if they disagree with someone.

Posted by l Shannon | Report as abusive

Eric Cantor was busy thumbing his Blackberry during the president’s speech. Disrespectful, indeed.

Posted by Carol Anne | Report as abusive

Here’s another Republican who is making what was once a great party look like idiots and extremist. As a 63 year old white guy with Southern roots, I had hoped that racism was becoming less of a factor in the United States. Congressman Wilson’s behavior doesn’t do much to give us hope. If I were from South Carolina, I would be very embarrassed!

Posted by John E | Report as abusive

you have to love it when wilson apologizes and says that his emotions got the better of him. if only he and most republican would stop being guided by cowardly emotions and start letting intelligence get the better of him (even though he is from south carolina it should still be possible). on the other hand, if democrats get incorrectly treated like guano for telling the truth, it might be time to start lying and hiding the truth like the entire bush administration previously. that would be poetic… all in all, you have to love the continuing republican comedy of meaning so well but getting everything so wrong.

Posted by Matt Everest | Report as abusive

When viewing the campaign contributors for Joe, it’s fairly easy to discern why his behaviour is akin to the “rabid dog” hijinks so recently spotlighted in national debate. These guys have no shame!

Worst of all, the best this horse’s ass can come up with is a two word epithet directed publicly at our President. Such is the caliber of most politicians scrambling to serve the will of their corporate masters these days.

I’m going to be sick!

Posted by RH Pyle | Report as abusive

All you saps applauding Joe Wilson must think he’s doing a great job looking out for your interests.

Believe me it has nothing to do with Joe Citizen and everything to do with getting himself re-elected. Just follow the money.

Take a look at how many of his 2010 contributors are health care related. His #1 contributor is the American Hospital Association, but among the top 20 are the American Speech Language Hearing Association, Blue Cross/Blue Shield(!), Carecore (a specialty benefit MANAGEMENT company, American Society of Anesthesiologists, and AstraZeneca PLC (pharmaceutical). contrib.php?cid=N00024809&cycle=2010&typ e=I&newMem=N&recs=100

Posted by Chatty Kathy | Report as abusive

Anyone supportive of Rep. Wilson’s mean, uncivil, immature outburst is equally mean, uncivil, and immature. Furthermore, the statement that Obama was accused of lying about is clearly true. Wilson doesn’t have the truth on his side. Illegal immigrants are not covered in Obama’s proposal.

Wilson does not deserve a seat in the US House of Representatives. Have South Carolinians lost their self-respect? They certainly need to do a better job at choosing those who are paid to represent them. I’m really, really, really getting sick and tired of the hateful, destructive, unAmerican Republican Party. They are dragging this country down. It’s certainly no mystery as to why they are no longer in power.

Posted by James Kelley | Report as abusive

The whole episode with Wilson was very unfortunate. He made himself look like an out-of-control redneck. Obama didn’t get ruffled in the least, he showed intelligence and true class.

Wilson made Republicans, Southeners and crabby old white guys look like sore losers (again).

Posted by Liz B | Report as abusive

JOHN C., you wrote the following today:

“Keep yelling, Joe! Dems can’t take a little yelling of the TRUTH? Republicans should keep yelling until the usurper is gone. I stand with the Republicans and yell too! OBAMA, WHERE IS YOUR BIRTH CERTIFICATE?”

Are you serious? Where do you and your alike come from? Where do you all live? What do you smoke? Do you not understand that the rate of health care cost rise has become unsustainable, and puts at risk our very existence as a competitive, financial power-house that we have been in the past. Do you not understand that as a consequence, nothing less than our military might, political power, and our national security is at stake in this discussion?

So, I can understand disagreements about the health care reform being proposed, cynicism about the government’s role in any new health care structure and so on. It is absolutely essential that we critic and challenge all proposals being proposed, so as to produce the most fruitful reform. I have my own reservation about the current debate.

But you, sir, have no interest in subjecting yourself to the challenge that history has put at your table. You, sir, do not have the cohones to deal with the painful decisions this nation has to make in order to secure its future. You would rather ignore the fire as it eats up your house. You would rather put your hands over your eyes with your tail between your legs, as the window of opportunity to reset the tragic course that we currently travel closes and as the light shining through this window dims.

While some are getting bruised and and covered with dark and sticky soot while trying to burn out the fire, as grown adults would try to do, you remind me that it is easier for some to pretend the fire does not exist, yell “mail man is at the door”, and leave the premises, again with your tail between your legs and both your eyes covered with your hands like a little girl playing hide and seek. Except in your case, all you do is hide, never having the spine to seek that which ails YOU.

Because my guess is, you, sir, are likely to be the type who is, in fact, ailing under the current health care system. I would bet you (like most) would probably be the middle class or low income type for whom this health care reform would work the with greatest advantage. You know what I mean. The kind who has benefited from the extended unemployment benefit, from the broadened COBRA benefits for yourself and your family, and may be from the ‘cash for clunkers’ program while all the while you have those eye balls of yours focused on a manufactured issue like Obama’s birth certificate. Or you are the type who continues to enjoy the benefits of Medicare but is at the town hall meetings with your congress representative yelling and screaming “get the government out of my health care”, at best negligent of the fact that Medicare is a government program.

No doubt you have also taken the time to concern yourself with the current debate just enough to learn that Obama plans to form a committee to ration health services and deny senior citizens life sustaining treatments, after which he will secretly send them to a death camp, right? laughable….have you had a chance to glean at today’s fox news propaganda or sarah palin’s tweets yet?

Posted by Josh | Report as abusive

Mr. Wilson is right, he spoke the truth. So far, what has Barak Obama done for this country? Nothing!!! Jobs, economy, immigration problems, border patrol, global warming, energy crisis, racial problems??? Has he fulfilled any of his campaign promise? Nada!!!!

Posted by henry | Report as abusive


Dude you already lost all your credibility..the article… and several republicans said it wasn’t a lie. So obviously… you are the liar.

Posted by Patrick | Report as abusive

“when a few Democrats “BOO’D” Bush during a major speech.”

Booing policy is one thing… blatantly calling the president a liar in congress another.

Posted by Patrick | Report as abusive

Joe Wilson rocks!

Posted by Al | Report as abusive

So, one misleading lie out of the way, no healthcare for illegals. NEXT!!!

Posted by Eric H | Report as abusive

Obama’s speech didn’t mention race.
Wilson didn’t mention race.
How come so many commenters are?

It seems that because Obama is a different color than Wilson, no issue between them could ever be a democrat/republican, liberal/conservative, pro/con, patayto/patahto issue. It absolutely must be a racial one.

Posted by drewbie | Report as abusive

“Illegal immigrants” could refer to any nationality. How will the president prevent them from the program? Will we all have to show A BIRTH CERTIFICATE, PASSPORT, CITIZENSHIP PROOF, SCHOOL RECORDS, OR HEALTH RECORDS like the things Barack Obama is hiding to prove they are legal citizens? Will that only be required if they LOOK foreign? If they refuse or cannot show their documents, should they be called illegal immigrants? This should be a touchy subject for this president with the cries for “Where is the birth certificate,” and the many lawsuits against him.

If they somehow get insurance, and get health care at a hospital and we find they came into our nation illegally, do we stop payment to the hospital? I cannot see how this will not cover illegal immigrants.

Posted by Marie Devine | Report as abusive

We need more reps like good ol joe who are not afraid to let it all hang out…he was gettin old school like the founding fathers….i love it

Posted by boonerockfarmer | Report as abusive

At least somebody in Congress has what it takes to stand up for what he thinks. I wish they all would, but they’re so cowed down and afraid to speak up that it makes me sick. We obviously don’t need and don’t want any so-called healthcare reform in this country, at least not government controlled. Joe is my hero.

Posted by Frank | Report as abusive

You stay classy, Teabaggers. Joe Wilson South Carolina has never been more than a right-wing backbencher. He’s never been the chair or ranking member of a committee; he’s never sought or held statewide office; and he’s not known for championing or showing leadership on any major legislation.

After last night’s outburst, however, Wilson is, all of a sudden, very well known.

Today, the far-right House member came out of hiding to make a brief statement.– “Well I, uh, last night heard from the leadership that they, uh, wanted me to contact the White House, uh, and state that, uh, my, uh, statements, uh, were inappropriate. I did, I’m very grateful that the White House, in talking with them, uh, they indicated that they appreciated the call and that we needed to have a civil discussion about the health care issues. And I certainly agree with that.”

From there, Wilson proceeded to argue that reform would extend coverage to “illegal aliens,” a claim that continues to be false. He then ran away.

The incident has also brought some attention to Wilson’s record of how he conducts himself. In a 2003 incident, Wilson lashed out at Strom Thurmond’s illegitimate daughter. In a 2002 incident, Wilson attacked a Democratic House member who had the audacity to note that the Reagan administration supplied weapons to Saddam Hussein’s regime. The claim was accurate, but Wilson attacked the lawmaker for his “hatred of America.”

President Obama has been gracious and accepted Wilson’s apology. Speaker Pelosi told reporters, “It’s for us to talk about health care and not Mr. Wilson.”

On the other hand, the DCCC is raising a boatload of money off of Wilson’s outburst, and his Democratic opponent’s coffers are filling up in South Carolina.

Posted by Steve | Report as abusive

Joe Wilson from South Carolina, is just another good old boy where in the morning these married men preach to you that there should be prayer in our schools and in the evening they are on their cell phones setting up a date with their other women on the side, hypocrisy has been bred in. I am not surprised that he felt compel to yell like he was at some Friday night game. He is a hater not a debater like most of his side of the isle.

Posted by Paul | Report as abusive

Eric h does that also mean democrats will not expect them to vote as well!that will be a shame here in the CA,the democrats might loose some seats!

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

You say there is no race mention. Then you must be listening to the sound of your on voice. Thank God teabaggers aren’t running this country. Oh and thanks alot for believing in no healthcare reform. You just told me and my family, my children that we are underserving of health care. By the way I’m white and grew up in the South. I don’t understand why we even bother voting for a leader. Whats the point if we don’t listen to the leader. The opposer of health care reform reminds me of the movie, “The Day After” when they’re telling the people to stay and inside but the people don’t listen and go out in the storm and freeze to death. You are saying we are leaving our children with debt is we pass it. What good will it do them if they are not here to spend it because they died from not being able to get healthcare. Peace and love. PLEASE. God Bless Barack Obama.

Posted by Tammi | Report as abusive

Obama was speaking half a lie and half a truth…..anybody here familiar with the concept of “guile” ?
Yes, the health care proposal states that it will not cover
illegal aliens medical costs….but then also states that verification of citizenship will not be required. The net result ? Illegals are covered. It is a simple concept.

Thank you, Congressman, for showing us that there are other dances besides the ” Potomac Two-step “

Posted by chris | Report as abusive

Its about time someone speaks the truth!! Thats true representation! The president is an elected official and can be heckeled like anyone else. Is he exempt from hearing views or opinions opposite his?

Posted by pete martino | Report as abusive

I find it silly that opponents to the health care bill are more concerned about illegal aliens being covered than about your own family and friends being covered.

So what if aliens are getting healthcare? I know you ingrates don´t want any of your income going to anything that doesn´t keep you drooling. But really, would it be that big of a price to pay? After all nearly no civilized country would allow people within its borders (legal or not) to die on the street.

It´s time for Americans to join the party. The reality is that people in Europe are happier, wealthier, dress better, live longer, and have more vacation to enjoy than you boneheads. And yes they do have universal healthcare and much more. Get it? Open your eyes.

Posted by 21st Century American | Report as abusive

Wilson blurts out an emotional exclamation and because it is the only thing newsworthy about the night’s activities it makes the headlines.

Wilson quickly gives a real apology (points out his lack of self control, points out the specifics of the offense, and says that he is sorry), as opposed to BHO who has never apologized for his absurd accusation of stupidity relating to the Cambridge police incident (he only said that he was sorry that his comments caused such an uproar – basically blaming the hearers rather than the speaker of the comment).

There are issues that are unclear in the possible bill. There is a clear history that anything not stated specifically is interpreted by the courts later to have broader not more narrow application. The Congress is again making the language so vague that they are abdicating their positon in the three part government of the USA to the judiciary who are in most cases appointed by the latest leader/ruler rather than elected and thus answerable to the people.

Joe Wilson did not cry out because he is a (choose one):


He cried out because he is as frustrated as 75% of American citizens. We are all tired of the newsmedia shaping our thoughts, it is time that they brought straight reporting to the debate, and stopped with the damaging commentary. We have plenty of commentators (Beck, Olberman, Hannity, Maddow, Limbaugh, Blitzer), lets get some straight news for once.

Posted by Mark | Report as abusive

I applaud Congressman Wilson for speaking up for me and every other American who is tired of the blatant lies being spoken in Washington. It may have been the “wrong venue” but he spoke from his gut, which is always right. When will Washington get it and wake up. We are not stupid and we are not taking it anymore.

Posted by Patricia Bloomstine | Report as abusive