Rep. Joe Wilson Resolution Rare Move for House

Wilson's outburst has raised questions about the political climate.

ByJONATHAN KARL via via logo
September 16, 2009, 8:21 AM

Sept. 16, 2009— -- South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson's now-famous outburst during the president 's recent address before a joint session of Congress turned him into an instant celebrity, but it has also made the Republican one of the few members of Congress ever to be officially condemned by a House vote.

The House voted Tuesday 240 to 179 for a rare disciplinary resolution, accusing Wilson of a "breach of decorum" that brought "discredit to the House." It was a near party-line vote. All but seven Republicans voted "no" and 17 Democrats declined to support the resolution, voting "no" or "present."

The House historian's office said that no "resolution of disapproval" had been passed to upbraid a member of the House in the past 20 years.

Democrats tried a similar maneuver in 2003, aimed at then-House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, but the vote was later tabled by the GOP-controlled Congress.

The last serious disciplinary action taken by the House was the expulsion of Rep. Jim Traficant, D-Ohio, in 2002 after his conviction on federal bribery and racketeering charges. Traficant was recently released from prison after serving seven years.

Wilson called Tuesday's vote "political game-playing," adding "it's exactly what the president said shouldn't occur."

"The president said the time for games is over," Wilson said in a speech on the House floor. "[President Obama] graciously accepted my apology, and the issue is over."

But most Democrats and a handful of Republicans disagreed, ultimately voting to rebuke Wilson.

"You can't just shout out," Wilson's fellow South Carolina Republican, Rep. Bob Inglis, said. "Yelling can't become the new normal, and we as a Congress need to say that to each other."

Inglis said he is disappointed that Wilson's outburst has made him a folk hero to many conservatives.

"We need to send a signal that, no, it wasn't right, we don't need want anti-heroes out there," Inglis said.

House Minority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said, "This is about the rules of the House, and reprehensible conduct. Silence gives consent. We cannot be silent in this matter, because we do not consent with the conduct of Mr. Wilson."

But most Republicans and 12 Democrats questioned the precedent being set by the resolution, which is considered the least severe disciplinary action the House can take against a member.

"I think it is bad precedent to put us in charge of deciding whether people act like jerks," prominent Democratic Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, called it "nothing more than a partisan stunt."

Reaction to Wilson's "You Lie!" Continues

Wilson's wife spoke out publicly Tuesday about the incident, appearing in a new ad on Wilson's Web site.

"Joe called me after the speech on Wednesday night and I said, 'Joe, who's the nut that hollered out, 'You lie' and 'You liar','" she said. "And he goes, 'It was me'. … I couldn't believe that Joe would say that."

In the video, she also predicts that "he'll be fine." And if Wilson's fund-raising activity is any indication, he's doing better than fine.

The controversy may turn Wilson's next election into the most well-funded House race in the country. Republicans say he has raised nearly $2 million in the six days since his outburst, while his opponent has raised about $1.5 million.

Sentiments about the Wilson incident continue to run deep and has sparked a debate across the country about possible underlying motives for his behavior.

"Who knows what November will bring with the resurgence of Republicans and what is going on," Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., said at a fund-raising event Tuesday. "If this guy from South Carolina can be a hero, what's happening in America?"

Former President Jimmy Carter also weighed in Tuesday night, saying that Wilson's outburst and the support he has enjoyed since are "not just casual outcomes of sincere debate on whether we should have a national program on health care. It's deeper than that."

Carter also said he believes Wilson's outburst was an act "based on racism."

ABC News' Devin Dwyer and Rick Klein contributed to this report.

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