From the Los Angeles Times:
Reporting from Washington – President Obama on Sunday dismissed the uproar over Rep. Joe Wilson’s heckling during the president’s speech Wednesday to a joint session of Congress, suggesting it was only a distraction — even as some members of Obama’s party threatened to punish the South Carolina Republican.
“This is part of what happens. I mean, it becomes a big circus instead of us focusing on healthcare,” Obama said in an interview on the CBS news program “60 Minutes.”
Obama noted that Wilson later apologized, which “I appreciated.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and other senior Democrats in the chamber indicated last week that unless Wilson went to the House floor to apologize, they would advance a resolution admonishing Wilson for shouting “You lie” during Obama’s address.
Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Wilson said he would not issue any more apologies for what he said his son had called a “town hall moment” — referring to the raucous demonstrations mounted over the summer by critics of the president’s healthcare agenda.
“I’ve apologized one time,” Wilson said Sunday. “The apology was accepted by the president, by the vice president, who I know. I am not apologizing again.”
From The New York Times:
On Fox News, Representative Joe Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina, said he would not apologize again for his outburst on Wednesday night, when he shouted “You Lie!” to President Obama during his speech about health care legislation before a joint session of Congress.
Chris Wallace, the host of “Fox News Sunday,” asked Mr. Wilson whether he would issue another apology when he is confronted with the criticisms of his colleagues on the House floor.
“I am not going to apologize again,” Mr. Wilson said on television on Sunday. “I apologized to the president on Wednesday night. I was advised then that — thank you, now let’s get on to a civil discussion of the issues. But I — I’ve apologized one time. The apology was accepted by the president, by the vice president, who I know. I am not apologizing again.”
Actually, even though Mr. Obama said publicly last week that he accepted Mr. Wilson’s apology, the congressman’s telephone overture — which Mr. Wilson said at the time was prompted by the Republican House leadership — was made to Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff.
Asked about the possible discipline he faces, Mr. Wilson dismissed it pretty much as theater. “My view is it’s politics. This is playing politics. This is exactly what the American people do not want to see, do not want to hear.”
In a formal statement Mr. Wilson released today, he said: “The American people are fed up with the political games in Washington, and I refuse to participate in an effort to divert our attention away from the task at hand of reforming health insurance and creating new jobs. Having apologized on Wednesday to the White House, we agreed that we must move forward in a civil manner to do the work the American people have sent us here to do. Health insurance reform is too important to take a backseat to political partisanship.”
Still, the House leadership has decided to take this incident to the floor, and many top Republican leaders have termed Mr. Wilson’s behavior “inappropriate” or worse. While Speaker Nancy Pelosi initially said she believed people should move on, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland as well as Representative James Clyburn, the Democratic majority whip from South Carolina, were among those who rather publicly and forcefully pushed for official action to be taken against Mr. Wilson.
Columnists and political operatives have been mining Mr. Wilson’s eruption for an undercurrent. In her column today, The Times’s Maureen Dowd wondered whether the congressman really wanted to shout, “You Lie, boy,” as she cited a lot of over-the-top vitriol directed at the nation’s first African-American president during the summer.
Citing Ms. Dowd’s column, Mr. Wallace challenged the South Carolinian lawmaker on that issue as well, but Mr. Wilson swiped it away with a reference to the Southern roots of First Lady Michelle Obama.
“No, no,” Mr Wilson replied. “Hey, I respect the president. Actually, there’s a relationship, in a way. His wife — her family’s from Georgetown. My family’s from next door in McClellanville. So I have a great respect for the Obama family.”
From New York Magazine:
[Wilson] said being publicly reprimanded by Congress is “going to be tough.” But the most interesting part of the interview came when Wallace asked Wilson about Maureen Dowd’s op-ed today, in which she alleges that Wilson’s disrespect for the president was motivated by racism. Wilson came back with a surprising and absurd defense:
I respect President Obama. Actually, there’s a relationship in a way … his wife, ah, her family’s from Georgetown [South Carolina], ah, my family’s from next door, in McClellanville, so I, ah, have a great respect for the president.
Before saying this, Wilson paused, his left hand shaking, his voice hesitant. Maybe it’s because he knows that in the historical culture of South Carolina, this kind of “relationship” is not necessarily, or even likely to be, a friendly one. (And if the two families were friendly, or even knew each other, wouldn’t he have mentioned that salient fact?) And it certainly doesn’t prove that Wilson’s unprecedented act of disrespect wasn’t racially motivated. If Joe Wilson thinks “our families lived near each other in a segregated area of the country” is his best defense against being called a racist, he’s on very shaky ground.