Lawmakers denounce 'You lie' outburst

WASHINGTON - September 10, 2009

"I was embarrassed for the chamber and a Congress I love," Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday on ABC's "Good Morning America." "It demeaned the institution."

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., told ABC on Wednesday: "Obviously, the President of the United States is always welcome on Capitol Hill. He deserves respect and decorum.

"I know that Congressman Wilson has issued an apology and made his thoughts known to the White House, which was the appropriate thing to do," Cantor said.

Wilson's outburst came after Obama said extending health care to all Americans who seek it would not mean insuring illegal immigrants.

"You lie!" Wilson shouted from his seat on the Republican side of the chamber.

After the speech, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said, "There'll be time enough to consider whether or not we ought to make it clear that that action is unacceptable in the House of Representatives."

"Let's see what he does," Hoyer told WTOP radio before Wilson issued an apology. "Then there's time enough to consider further action."

Wilson's behavior caused a political hangover for him and possibly for the Republican critics Obama had cast as shrill and more interested in killing any health care overhaul than finding a way to provide it.

Later, Wilson was contrite.

"This evening I let my emotions get the best of me," he said in a statement. "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."

He then tried to call Obama to apologize personally, but ended up talking with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel instead, Wilson's office said.

Biden said Thursday that he hadn't spoken with Obama, but, "knowing the president, I'm sure he accepted the apology."

By late Wednesday, though, the congressman's Web site had crashed, he had taken a beating on his Twitter page and Democrat Rob Miller had raised thousands of unexpected dollars online for a possible rematch with Wilson in next year's midterm elections, according to Lachlan McIntosh, Miller's campaign manager.

In the eight hours since Wilson's outburst, his Democratic opponent, former-Marine Rob Miller, has received nearly 3,000 individual grassroots contributions raising approximately $100,000, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said.

Wilson, a conservative Republican who promotes a strong national defense and reining in the size of government, won a special election to the House in 2001, succeeding the late Rep. Floyd Spence, R-S.C. Wilson had worked on Spence's staff on Capitol Hill and also previously been an intern on the staff of venerable Sen. Strom Thurmond, R.S.C.

Wilson, who is the only Republican who serves on both the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, is a familiar face on the floor of the chamber, often going there after regular legislative business to make announcements, observations and political points in the so-called "one minutes," a special free-wheeling speaking period given lawmakers, usually in the after hours.

Wilson has been a staunch supporter of the war in Iraq.

"Everybody was stunned," Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said of Wilson's eruption. "It was just something that nobody had ever witnessed before. We all felt embarrassed."

Republicans froze; several glanced in Wilson's direction.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi directed a fierce frown at him; first lady Michelle Obama pursed her lips and shook her head from side to side. Biden looked down and shook his head too.

Obama, meanwhile, looked toward the outburst and replied, "That's not true" before going on with his speech.

Wilson appeared to consult his Blackberry for much of the rest of Obama's speech. He shook his head defiantly after several of the president's statements. When Obama finished, Wilson bolted from the chamber.

Wilson's behavior was "totally disrespectful," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who had been Obama's rival in the 2008 presidential election, said on CNN. "There is no place for it in that setting, or any other, and he should apologize for it immediately."


Associated Press writers David Espo and Ben Evans in Washington and Jim Davenport in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.

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