“Top Line” — Black Caucus Chair: “Hate Speech Can Turn into Hate Crimes”

Sep 15, 2009 2:01pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: The House of Representatives this afternoon will vote to formally reprimand Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., over the exclamation on the House floor he directed at President Obama last week. Among those pushing for a vote of disapproval have been members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who have raised questions about whether race played a role in the disrespect directed at the nation’s first African-American president. On ABCNews.com’s “Top Line” today, Rep. Barbara Lee, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said it’s important for members of Congress to send a message that they don’t condone outbursts like Wilson’s, particularly in the wake of raucous town hall meetings that have express anger over the president’s leadership. “The formal step is very important because people in our country need to see members of Congress act in a civil manner, and I think what we saw during August unfortunately was a lack of civility,” Lee, D-Calif., told us. “It’s hard to say what’s in the hearts and minds of individuals who promote these kinds of posters that we saw over the weekend. You know, hate speech can turn into hate crimes. And of course we have to recognize the fact that there are many in our country who did not want to see an African-American elected as president — but more did. And we elected President Obama and we have to move on but we have to have a public discourse and we have to have a civil discourse about many of the issues around race and the unfinished business of America. And we’re moving forward, but I think that we have to bring the country together in a healthy way to engage in this dialogue.” Wilson’s apology to the president, offered privately through White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, isn’t enough, Lee said. “Congressman Wilson rightfully apologized to the president. However, this breach in decorum occurred on the House floor, and I believe our leadership is correct in making sure that the apology takes place in the forum where the breach occurred,” she said. On health care, Lee said her caucus is still concentrating on making a “public option” part of the package that moves forward — notwithstanding Senate negotiations that appear likely to drop that element. “We care a lot about what goes on in the Senate, but I have to say as a member of the House, I believe we have to have the strongest bill to move out of the House which includes a robust public option, because that’s the essence of this health care reform policy,” Lee said. “Let me just say that we in the House, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Tri-Caucus, the Progressive Caucus — we’re not sitting by the  sidelines. We’re working each and every day to make sure that we have a bill that brings the most amount of votes so that we can pass a strong bill off of the House floor.” Click HERE to see the interview with Rep. Barbara Lee. We also spoke with GOP strategist Kevin Madden, who shared his view that the formal reprimand is an “overreach” by Democratic leaders that could provoke a public backlash. Watch the discussion with Kevin Madden HERE.

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