WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday accepted Rep. Joe Wilson's apology for his outburst during Obama's speech to Congress on health care, sayting "we all make mistakes."
"He apologized quickly and without equivocation, and I appreciate that," Obama said. "I do think that we have to get to the point that we have a conversation without...assuming the worst in people."
"We are all Americans," Obama added. "For the most part, we have the same motives."
Wilson's shout of "You lie" during Obama's speech drew widespread criticism and sent thousands of visitors to his official Web site, which crashed under the strain.
The phone at the congressman's reelection campaign headquarters in West Columbia, S.C., also appeared overwhelmed, bleating a constant busy signal. And at Wilson's nearby district office a couple of women answered steadily ringing phones.
Workers there declined to characterize whether the callers were voicing support or condemnation, but Wilson's shout during the president's address dominated conversation in his heavily Republican district, which stretches from Lexington, S.C. to Hilton Head Island.
"I really was surprised by it," said April Crenney, 37, a Democrat from Hilton Head Island. "I would hope for better behavior from a member of Congress. Sometimes people's own agendas and egos seem to make it more about them and less about the issues."
Wilson supporters clamored to his Facebook.com page, leaving notes of support and congratulations. Wilson yelled out when Obama said the proposed health plan does not insure illegal immigrants.
“Thank you for speaking the truth from the heart last night, Joe,” one read. “It is appreciated, even if it did break the rules of decorum — it was sorely needed. You have my support and (you) are in my prayers!”
But others like Thomas Rembert Jr., a Democrat who lives in Wilson's district, blasted out e-mails to his friends, encouraging them to call Wilson’s office and the newspaper.
“I’ve always been proud to be a South Carolinian until now,” Rembert said. “It just amazes me our (congressman) could yell out on national TV and call the president of the United States a liar. How can he disrespect the president in such a manner?”
Wilson later issued a statement of apology and called the White House to apologize.
That did not spare Wilson near universal condemnation in Congress. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Seneca Republican, and U.S. Reps. James Clyburn, a Columbia Democrat, and Bob Inglis, a Greenville Republican, all condemned Wilson’s outburst.
Wilson, 62, was first elected to Congress Dec. 18, 2001, in a special election to replace U.S. Rep. Floyd Spence, who died in office.
Wilson said he apologized after he was ordered to do so by the Republican leadership. He said the White House accepted his apology.
“(White House leadership) indicated they appreciated the call and they said we need to have a civil discussion and I certainly agree with that,” Wilson told reporters today.
The political fallout for Wilson is still being measured.
Rob Miller, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Wilson, claims he has raised $200,000 since last night.
But Republicans, even those who did not approve of Wilson’s outburst, were still supporting the congressman.
James Wedgeworth, former chairman and membership chairman of the Beaufort County Republican Party, said that while Wilson probably regrets saying what he did, his point was valid.
"My guess is that Joe Wilson has been holding all of these town hall meetings and he knows how frustrated the American people are with this health care proposal," Wedgeworth said. "Obama can stand up and say these things, but it's what is written in the bill that is important, and I think that's what Joe was saying.”
Graham told Fox News Channel Thursday that although he did not agree with Wilson’s outburst, he thought Obama’s speech was partisan and divisive and should be met with opposition.