Published September 15, 2009
The House of Representatives, on the heels of an impassioned and lively debate, voted Tuesday to formally admonish Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., for accusing the president of lying during a joint session of Congress a week ago.
The vote was 240-179. Five lawmakers voted "present."
Ahead of the tally, lawmakers hurled an arsenal of accusations at each other over the issue, with Republicans calling the effort a "partisan stunt" and Democrats stepping up their condemnation of Wilson's original offense.
The decision to punish him on the floor of the House was made even though Wilson apologized directly to the White House after President Obama's speech Wednesday night. Wilson also issued a written statement expressing regret.
Wilson spoke before the vote Tuesday, saying he'd done enough and it's time to "move forward."
"There are far more important issues facing this nation than what we're addressing right now," Wilson said on the floor of the House. "(President Obama) graciously accepted my apology and the issue is over."
He told FOX News afterward that he thought "political games were played."
"I believe today was a low day," he said. "This truly was a game of no meaning."
House Minority Leader John Boehner called it a "partisan stunt" and a "sad day for the House of Representatives."
But House Democratic leaders wanted further action taken. Wilson shouted, "You lie," after Obama claimed in his joint address to Congress that his health care reform plan would not cover illegal immigrants. It is against House rules to call the president a "liar" or accuse him of "lying" when the House is in session.
The language in the resolution, released Tuesday afternoon, said Wilson's conduct was a "breach of decorum and degraded the proceedings of the joint session, to the discredit of the House."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer made clear that he felt obligated to push the measure.
"None of us is happy to be here considering this resolution. I know I am not," he said on the House floor. But he said the issue of whether to proceed "with a degree of civility and decorum" is important.
"This is not about partisan politics or inappropriate comments," House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., said. "This is about the rules of this House and reprehensible conduct."
The punishment took the form of a "resolution of disapproval," which is a milder version of other more traditional means of congressional discipline. Democrats said last week Wilson could avoid the slap on the wrist by apologizing to his colleagues on the House floor, but Wilson declined, noting his previous apologies.
A "resolution of disapproval" is not one of the four forms of discipline typically meted out in the House. The most commonly used means of punishment are expulsion, censure, reprimand or fine.
For instance, in 1997, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was both reprimanded and fined for his book deal. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., was reprimanded in 1990 for ethical breaches tied to a male prostitute. Republicans tried to censure Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., in 2007 for comments he made on the House floor about President Bush. But Democrats voted to set aside that effort.