The First Draft: Congressman Wilson’s big moment
The 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.
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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)