- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 10, 2009

UPDATED:

Republican Congressman Joe Wilson hastily apologized for accusing President Obama of lying during the president’s prime-time TV speech, as Democrats began a fundraising effort to defeat him next year.

“This evening I let my emotions get the best of me,” Mr. Wilson, South Carolina Republican, said about an hour after shouting “You lie” during the president’s joint address to Congress on health-care reform Wednesday night.

Mr. Wilson said he still does not believe the president’s statement that his reform plan will not extend to illegal immigrants, “but my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility.”

Mr. Obama said he appreciated and accepted Mr. Wilson’s apology, which came via a phone call after the speech to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, a former member of the House.

“I’m a big believer that we all make mistakes,” Mr. Obama told reporters before the start of a Cabinet meeting Thursday. He also warned against “name-calling” and “the assumption of the worst in other people’s motives.”

He said Americans are “turned off” by hot rhetoric and prefer pragmatism.

Mr. Wilson further apologized Thursday for his outburst but defended his stance that the administration’s health-care reform plan will include coverage for illegal immigrants.

Mr. Wilson said two amendments in Capitol Hill legislation that required proof of legal U.S. residence for heath care coverage were voted down by Democrats. He also said party leaders told him to apologize to the White House.

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The controversy over whether illegal immigrants can benefit from the health reforms Mr. Obama is proposing was a hot topic at health care town halls during the August congressional recess. Mr. Obama noticeably paused after Mr. Wilson’s shout.

Within hours of the speech ending, Democrat Rob Miller, Mr. Wilson’s challenger in 2010, raised more than $55,000 and challenged the several hundred new Twitter followers he gained during the evening to “double that in 12 hours.”

By noon, the “Defeating the man who yelled ‘liar’ at Obama: Goodbye Rep Joe Wilson,” on ActBlue, an online fundraising channel used by Democrats, had raised $89,235 from more than 2,500 donors.

At least seven of the 15 groups raising money for Mr. Miller on ActBlue appear to have been started after Mr. Wilson’s outburst.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said it has tracked a surge in donations to the hopeful, a former Marine.

A DCCC aide said in all, Mr. Miller has raised more than $200,000 from more than 5,000 individuals.

The DCCC tried to amplify that figure in a fundraising email that accused Mr. Wilson of having “screamed” at Mr. Obama.

“Calling the president of the United States a liar in front of the nation is a new low even for House Republicans and it deserves the strongest response we can give,” the DCCC wrote, asking for help raising $100,000 in 48 hours to “send a message” that the heckling is “truly an outrage.”

MoveOn.org started its own petition using Mr. Wilson, telling its millions of supporters: “We can’t afford to let right-wing extremists like Joe Wilson hold health care reform hostage.”

In addition, right-leaning blogs posted links to contribute to Mr. Wilson, with RedState calling the lawmaker a “hero.” And liberals mounted an effort to send complaints to Mr. Wilson.

The congressman’s congressional and political Web sites were bombarded with traffic while his phone lines were jammed Wednesday night. The House site finally warned visitors it was “down for maintenance.”

Mr. Wilson, who easily won his seat in a 2001 special election, is a staunch opponent of Mr. Obama’s plan.

The shouting incident shocked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, whose mouth dropped open as she turned toward the Republican side of the chamber. In video images, Mrs. Pelosi appeared to whisper Mr. Wilson’s name to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who sat beside her behind the president.

Former Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, now a Pennsylvania Democrat, offered a sharp critique of Mr. Wilson and called for legislative action.

“There ought to be a reprimand or censure of Rep. Joe Wilson to discourage that kind of conduct in the future,” Mr. Specter wrote on Twitter Thursday.

Mr. Specter said he did not find the apology statement “adequate.”

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, called Mr. Wilson’s comment “totally disrespectful.”

Mr. Wilson’s son, South Carolina attorney Alan Wilson, this week announced a bid to be the state’s attorney general.