The House voted overwhelmingly to punish Rep. Joe Wilson Tuesday with a resolution of disapproval that the South Carolina Republican’s colleagues dismissed as a political distraction.
By a margin of 240 to 179, the chamber approved the measure, which condemned Mr. Wilson’s exclamation of “You lie!” during President Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress as a breach of decorum. Seven Republicans voted for the resolution, while 12 Democrats voted against and another five Democrats voted “present.”
“This is not about partisan politics or inappropriate comments. To the contrary, this is about the rules of this House and reprehensible conduct,” said Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, a Democrat who sponsored the resolution aimed at his fellow South Carolinian.
Mr. Wilson — whose outburst was in response to Mr. Obama’s assertion that illegal immigrants would not be covered under the Democrats’ health care plan — spoke briefly but spent the majority of the debate listening quietly as his GOP colleagues defended him.
“Our economy is struggling, our families are hurting, and Congress is poised to demand an apology from a man who has already apologized,” said Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana.
The flap has exacerbated an already-tense partisan atmosphere on Capitol Hill as congressional leaders strive to gain support for their health-care overhaul.
Democrats said Tuesday they had no choice but to make an example out of Mr. WIlson, who refused to make a formal apology on the chamber floor after the White House accepted his initial mea culpa.
None of us is happy to be here considering the resolution before us,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said. “At the same time, what is at issue here is of importance to this House and to our country. And that issue is whether we are able to proceed with a degree of civility and decorum that our rules and our democracy contemplate and require.”
Mr. Wilson and other Republicans sought to paint the resolution as a political exercise diverting attention from more important issues.
“The challenges our nation faces are far bigger than any one member of this House,” Mr. Wilson said.
The incident has been a fund-raising boon to both Mr. Wilson and his Democratic challenger in next year’s mid-term election, Rob Miller. Both men have raised more than $1.5 million in the week since the controversy erupted.