Defiant Rep. Wilson: I won't apologize again

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 13, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Rep. Joe Wilson said emphatically Sunday that he won't apologize to his colleagues for defaming President Barack Obama, increasing the likelihood that the House will pass an official reprimand as early as this week.

Wilson was more defiant than contrite in answering a series of sharp questions from Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday," his first appearance ever on a Sunday morning talk show.

The South Carolina Republican left little doubt that he will reject House Democratic leaders' demand that he stand on the floor and apologize to other lawmakers for his "You lie!" shout during Obama's address to Congress last week.

"I am not going to apologize again," Wilson said. "I believe the American people know I'm a civil person. I respect the institution of the House. I have apologized to the president. I believe that should be enough."

Wilson issued a hard-hitting statement after the news program.

"The American people are fed up with the political games in Washington," he said. "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."

Wilson added: "Health insurance reform is too important to take a backseat to political partisanship."

But four days after Wilson cried out as millions watched Obama speak on prime-time television, the incident continued to produce aftershocks.

In a column published Sunday, New York Times commentator Maureen Dowd said that what Wilson really meant when he shouted out in the House chamber was, "You lie, boy!"

"Wilson clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber," Dowd wrote.

Asked by Wallace whether race underlay his outburst, Wilson responded, "No, no, I respect the president."

Wilson, 62, said his ancestors lived near those of first lady Michelle Obama in Georgetown County, S.C.

Appearing on CNN's "State of the Union" program, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama doesn't share Dowd's view.

"I don't think the president believes that people are upset because of the color of his skin," Gibbs said. "I think people are upset because on Monday we celebrate the anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse that caused a financial catastrophe unlike anything we've ever seen."

Asked whether Obama supports House Democrats' move to reprimand Wilson, Gibbs demurred.

"I'm going to let the House figure out how to deal with that," Gibbs said. "The president accepts ... Joe Wilson's apology."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a fellow South Carolina Republican, appeared on "Fox News Sunday" before Wilson's interview. Graham hedged on whether Wilson should make amends with his House colleagues.

"I think Joe needs to make it clear that what he did was wrong," Graham said. "He apologized to the president. That should be enough."

In another signal that Wilson and other Republicans intend to launch a counterattack and stop being defensive about the episode, the former military lawyer portrayed himself as a victim.

"This is playing politics," Wilson said of the House Democrats' threat to pass a "resolution of disapproval" unless he apologizes. "This is exactly what the American people do not want to see, do not want to hear."

Wilson, a retired Army National Guard colonel, accused Democrats of prolonging the aftermath of his outburst because they can't defend their effort to extend government health benefits to uninsured Americans.

"This is just a way to divert attention from a bill that would cost 1.6 million jobs," Wilson said.

Wilson also took credit for compelling Obama and Democratic lawmakers to toughen enforcement of a ban on illegal immigrants obtaining medical coverage under several measures still taking shape in the House and Senate.

Wilson called Obama a liar on Wednesday evening when the president said his health care plan wouldn't cover undocumented workers.

Obama aides and Democratic lawmakers have since indicated a willingness to add provisions requiring proof of citizenship or legal residency as several major news outlets reported that Wilson had identified a problem with their plan.

"I do think I brought the issue up — yes, I do," Wilson said. "I'm grateful for recognition even in the New York Times and the lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal. ... I believe I've certainly brought attention to the issues."

Wilson's outburst and the intense nationwide reaction to it have transformed him from a relatively obscure lawmaker to a household name.

In a conservative district that had elected him by wide margins four previous times, Wilson faced a stiffer challenge in November, defeating Democrat Rob Miller by 54 percent to 46 percent.

Miller, an Iraq war veteran and former Marine Corps captain, is running against Wilson again.

The two men have raised almost $2 million combined since Wilson's shout-out, with campaign contributions pouring in from across the country.

Wilson defended himself when Wallace asked him whether he's exploiting his newfound fame by posting a fund-raising video called "Stand With Joe" on his campaign Web site.

"I have been made a national target for the Democrats next year," Wilson said. "I will be speaking out."

Wilson acknowledged that it would be difficult for him if House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and other Democratic leaders follow through on their threat and pass a measure sanctioning him.

"It's going to be tough, because I respect my colleagues," Wilson said. "I respect civility. I promote civility in every way."

But asked whether Obama lied in his speech, Wilson backed off only a little.

"I believe he was misstating the facts," he said. "What he said was not accurate."

ON THE WEB

Republican Rep. Joe Wilson's campaign

Democratic opponent Rob Miller's campaign

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