Update September 16th: Post now updated to include reaction from Utah's three U.S. House members.
Utah's U.S. House delegation split their votes on H RES 744, which officially "admonishes" Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) for his heckling of Barack Obama during his address to Congress, when he yelled out "You lie!". Wilson's outburst came as Obama said that illegal immigrants would not be eligible for federal subsidies to purchase health insurance under his overhaul plan. Democrats have insisted that their proposals prohibit undocumented immigrants from getting assistance. Republicans say the legislation needs stronger verification requirements.
The resolution passed, 240-179, with 5 members voting Present. Voting took place almost completely along party lines, with most Democrats voting Yes and most Republicans voting No. The complete roll call vote can be viewed HERE. Of Utah's three House members, Democrat Jim Matheson voted Yes, while Republicans Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz voted No. According to this subsequent Deseret News article, Matheson's press secretary Alyson Heyrend said Matheson voted for it "because he believes Rep. Wilson's conduct violated the rules and standards of the House." But one of Matheson's constituents strongly disagreed, and posted his disagreement HERE.
In contrast, Chaffetz said, "Clearly what he did was inappropriate, but he apologized to the president. The president accepted that apology. We should move on. It's just a political distraction to the issues that face the nation." And Scott Parker, chief of staff for Bishop, said Bishop opposed it "because we could be spending time on so many other, more useful things, like health care," and because several "things done by current and former members seem so much more severe, but had no action taken against them."
The resolution marks the first time in the 220-year history of the House that a member had been admonished for speaking out while the president was giving an address, according to the Office of the House Historian. A resolution of disapproval is less severe than other disciplinary action available to the House, including censure or expulsion. A 17-minute C-SPAN segment of the debate is embedded below:
CNN presents a good analysis of the situation. Proponents of H RES 744 maintain that Rep. Wilson's apology to Barack Obama was not enough. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) maintained that an apology to the entire House was warranted because Rep. Wilson allegedly breached the degree of civility and decorum requisite from a member of Congress in a formal setting. Thus, Hoyer believes Wilson's refusal to issue an apology to the full House required admonishment.
Not surprisingly, the Congressional Black Caucus turned the heat up on Hoyer to proceed, even stooping to play the "Klan" card. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) insists that Wilson would not have popped off the same way to a white President. Johnson said Wilson's comment amounted to a "wink" of approval to right-wing extremists who have brought highly charged language and imagery -- such as posters depicting Obama with a Hitler mustache or as an African witch doctor -- to the health care debate.
"He [Wilson] did not help the cause of diversity and tolerance with his remarks," Johnson said. "If I were a betting man, I would say that it instigated more racist sentiment feeling that it's OK -- you don't have to bury it now."
Johnson added that failing to rebuke Wilson would bring increased racism in the public discussion on health care, saying: "You can bring it out and talk about it fully, and so I guess we will probably have folks putting on white hoods and white uniforms again riding through the countryside intimidating people."
Opponents of H RES 744 maintain that only one person was "victimized" by Rep. Wilson's remark - Barack Obama. Consequently, when Wilson apologized to Obama and Obama accepted the apology, that was the end of it, and no further apologies are necessary. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) characterized the resolution as "piling on." During the debate, Boehner and other Republicans acknowledged the mistake by Wilson while citing his military career and how his four children also served in the military. They noted that he already had apologized to Obama and accused Democrats of a partisan stunt intended to deflect attention from what they called increasingly unpopular health care legislation.
Rep. Steve King (R-IA) earlier circulated a letter among House Republicans last weekend urging Wilson not to apologize on the House floor. The letter stated, "We urge that you hold your ground against those who seek partisan advantage and reject all demands for additional redress. When the president of the United States accepts an apology, no observer has an additional claim."
Gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), one of the Democrats who voted Present, said, "I think it's bad precedent to put us in charge of deciding whether people act like jerks. I don't have time to monitor everyone's civility." A surprisingly libertarian attitude from Frank.
In reaction, Rep. Wilson said his utterance, sparked by Mr. Obama’s assertion that illegal immigrants would not receive health insurance coverage under pending bills in the House and Senate, was made at the “wrong place, wrong time.” Citing his education, Mr. Wilson said he did understand civil conduct and would never violate those protocols intentionally. But he added: “I’m very disappointed because it seems like a double standard. I see, as people — look, I was there on the floor when President Bush was booed and not a word was said. That’s a double standard — I’m willing to live with that.”
The Wilson dispute, by capturing the attention of Republican and Democratic loyalists, has been a financial bonanza for both Joe Wilson and his expected challenger in next year's election, Rob Miller. Miller is a former Marine who's trying to ride his DD Form 214 into Congress. Each has raised some $1.5 million in contributions since the speech last week.