President Obama said he accepts the apology of Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., who interrupted the president's health care speech Wednesday night to yell, "You lie!" after a line about how health insurance would not be provided to illegal immigrants.
"I'm a big believer that we all make mistakes," the president told reporters today following a meeting with his Cabinet members. "He apologized quickly and without equivocation, and I'm appreciative of that."
Obama said it's important to have a civil conversation and that "wild accusations" won't solve a problem.
"We have to get to the point where we can have a conversation about big, important issues that matter to the American people without vitriol, without name-calling without the assumption of the worst in other people's motives," the president said, adding that Americans "are turned off when they see people using wild accusations, false claims, name-calling, and sharply ideological approaches to solving problems. They want pragmatism."
Obama added that he also hopes "some of the fever breaks a bit" after Wednesday night's incident.
Wilson offered a written apology to the president soon after his address.
"This evening I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the president's remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill," he said. "While I disagree with the president's statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility."
But today, the lawmaker -- whose Democratic opponent Rob Miller has raised $400,000 in grassroots contributions since last night -- was seemingly unapologetic and pointed out that the senior GOP leadership approached him to contact the White House and apologize.
Many Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and House Republican leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, have distanced themselves from Wilson's comments, saying their colleagues' remark was inappropriate.
"Obviously the president of the United States is always welcome on Capitol Hill," House Minority Whip Cantor, R-Va., said. "He deserves respect and decorum."
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said she was stunned by the heckling, but dismissed calls to sanction Wilson.
"I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed for the chamber and the Congress I love," Vice President Joe Biden said on "Good Morning America." "I thought it demeaned the institution."
Health Care Push Remains Strong
Earlier today, the president once again took to the podium to fire up lawmakers and the American public on health care reform, and despite skepticism from Republicans over whether bipartisanship can be achieved, he continued to hammer on the need to pass reform legislation soon.
"I will not permit reform to be postponed or periled by the usual ideological diversions," Obama said today at the White House, following his speech to a joint session of Congress last night. "We don't need more partisan distractions."
"We have talked this issue to death... And the time for talk is winding down, the time for bickering has passed," said the president, surrounded by nurses from the American Nurses Association.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Census Bureau's annual report released today showed that the number of Americans without health insurance rose to 46.3 million in 2008, up 600,000 from the previous year. The president said that the number is even higher since the data doesn't take this year into account.
Obama expressed confidence that health care reform legislation will be passed this year, even as Republicans remain wary of the idea of a "public option" and say they would've liked to hear more specifics from the president on the costs and benefits of his health care reform proposals.
Push for Public Option
The controversial idea of a government-run insurance "public option" remains a thorny point of contention between Democrats and Republicans. GOP leaders say they were disappointed the president didn't abandon the idea altogether.
"Unfortunately, what the American people got wasn't a new health care plan. It was just another lecture. He had a chance to really put the government-run plan to bed, but unfortunately he didn't do it," House Republican leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said.
Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., a retired cardiothoracic surgeon who delivered the formal Republican response to the president's speech, rapped Obama for not taking the proposal off the table.
"Most Americans wanted to hear the president tell [House] Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi, [Senate] Majority Leader [Harry] Reid and the rest of Congress that it's time to start over on a common-sense, bipartisan plan focused on lowering the cost of health care while improving quality," he said.
Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley -- part of the so-called "Gang of Six" senators aiming to come up with a bipartisan solution -- said the president "passed up a big opportunity" by not ruling out a public option, which he and his colleagues argue would hurt the private insurance industry. Even Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who proposed the idea of a "trigger" mechanism for government insurance -- suggested last night by Obama -- said she was disappointed the president didn't drop the idea altogether.
"I don't think necessarily last night we heard in the House what we need to move forward on this idea of a public option," Cantor told "Good Morning America's" Robin Roberts. "I think it's very important that we dismiss this notion of a government option. I think if we listen to the American people ... the fear surrounds this notion that somehow the government will replace the health care system we know in this country."
In his speech, Obama expressed his support for a government-run insurance option as a way to stimulate competition, but he did not threaten to veto any legislation that does not contain that option and stressed that the public option is just one aspect of his overall plan.
"To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable for those without it," he said. "The public option is only a means to that end -- and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal. And to my Republican friends, I say that rather than making wild claims about a government takeover of health care, we should work together to address any legitimate concerns you may have."
Despite the skepticism from the right, Democrats rallied behind the president and administration officials expressed confidence that health care legislation will pass soon.
"I don't know whether he got the Republicans or not, but look, I am confident he has a clear majority in the House and Senate for reform," Biden told "GMA's" Diane Sawyer. "I think it [Obama's speech] is going to cause an awful lot of people to have an epiphany here."
Democratic leaders echoed that sentiment but unlike in the past, hinted today that an alternative to public option is not off the table.
"I'm confident the president will sign a bill this year," Pelosi said at a news conference today. "If somebody has a better idea, put it on the table, that's what the president said. ... So far we haven't seen a better idea, but it could be there. So this is about a goal. It's not about provisions."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said there are different ways to define a public option.
"I think that the public option is in the eye of the beholder. There are different types of public options. We're going to look at all of them," he said.
President Obama Pushes for Action
In his address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night, Obama decried the "partisan spectacle" that has stymied the debate over health care in recent months.
"[T]he time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action," the president told members of the House and Senate who showed their partisanship in their reactions throughout the 45-minute speech.
Obama was interrupted more than 50 times by applause from members of Congress, including a few bipartisan gestures of approval.
The president promised again not to sign any legislation that adds to the federal deficit -- a concern voiced by some conservative Democrats -- and a line that won him a bipartisan standing ovation.
"Our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close," he said. "The plan I'm proposing will cost around $900 billion over ten years -- less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and less than the tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans that Congress passed at the beginning of the previous administration."
President Pledged to Work on Bipartisan Solution
The president spoke directly to the nation's senior citizens to assuage concerns about Medicare dollars being used to pay for health care reform and pledged that would not happen.
"[N]ot a dollar of the Medicare trust fund will be used to pay for this plan," he said. "The only thing this plan would eliminate is the hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud, as well as unwarranted subsidies in Medicare that go to insurance companies -- subsidies that do everything to pad their profits and nothing to improve your care."
Obama said his plan incorporates ideas from both Democrats and Republicans, including one advanced by his rival in last year's general election -- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Obama said he now backs McCain's pitch to provide low-cost coverage to Americans who cannot get insurance because of a pre-existing condition.
Obama pledged to continue to work towards bipartisanship and common ground, but he issued a warning to those who he said do not have an interest in working toward real reform.
Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress came at a crucial moment in the debate over health care reform. The White House had said repeatedly in recent days that the president would get more specific in this address than he has in speeches over the last several months, raising the bar for something new that would move the debate forward after weeks of stalemate on Capitol Hill.
Obama admitted in an exclusive interview with "Good Morning America" Wednesday that by giving Congress so much leeway in shaping the legislation, rather than sending his own bill to the Hill, he "probably left too much ambiguity out there."
That ambiguity gave the president's opponents a window of opportunity to criticize the overall push for reform and fill the void with what the president called "scare tactics" in the speech.
The result for the White House was a summer of headaches and an August recess that came without a vote on legislation.
Republicans say that while there are areas where bipartisanship can be achieved, they need more guarantees from the president.
"A lot of what I heard has been heard before. The president did leave open the door for us," Cantor said. "I think we really need to start with some guarantees though ... that the government is not going to take away decision making away from patient ... that there won't be any rationing ... that we're not going to break the bank."
ABC News' Sunlen Miller and Jake Tapper contributed to this report.