WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday took the rare step of passing — largely along party lines — a disciplinary measure against Rep. Joe Wilson for his “You lie!” yell at President Barack Obama as he addressed Congress.
The House passed the “resolution of disapproval” by a 240-179 vote. Only seven GOP lawmakers — including U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis of Greenville — broke ranks to support the measure punishing Wilson, a Lexington County Republican.
Nine Democrats voted against the measure. Five Democrats voted “present,” neither for nor against it.
U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, led the floor debate before the vote.
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“When one of us, while seated in a formal session, severely violates the rules of this body by shamefully hurling an accusation of mendacity toward the president of these United States — our commander in chief — and refuses to express remorse, we at a minimum are duty-bound to express our disapproval,” said Clyburn, a Columbia Democrat.
Wilson had apologized to Obama after his speech Wednesday but rejected House Democrats’ demand he come to the floor and express contrition to his colleagues.
Wilson, who has posted fundraising videos saying he is “under attack by liberals” and who has raised more than $1.5 million since his outburst, was unrepentant in remarks on the House floor before the vote.
“When we are done here today, we will not have taken any steps closer to helping more American families afford health insurance or helping small businesses create new jobs,” Wilson said. “The challenges our nation faces are far bigger than any one member of this House. It is time that we move forward and get to work for the benefit of the American people.”
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio accused Democrats of trying to exploit the Wilson incident for political gain.
“This is a sad day for the House of Representatives,” Boehner said. “We all know Joe Wilson. He is a decent man, and to put him through this on the floor of the House is unacceptable, and it is a partisan stunt.”
Clyburn, visibly angry, delivered a sharp response.
“This is not a partisan stunt,” he said. “I do not participate in partisan stunts. This is about the proper decorum that should take place on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.”
The measure cited Wilson for violating the House’s general code of conduct requiring that a member “shall conduct himself at all times in a manner which shall reflect credibly on the House of Representatives.”
Clyburn and U.S. House Budget Committee chairman John Spratt, a York Democrat, voted for the resolution, along with Republican Inglis of Greenville.
Wilson and fellow Republican Rep. Henry Brown of Hanahan voted against the measure.
Rep. Gresham Barrett, a Westminster Republican and gubernatorial candidate, abstained from voting after sending Obama a letter asking him to step in and prevent the vote.
“I will not participate in partisan mockery of this sort,” Barrett wrote to Obama.
House Democratic leaders chose not to seek any of three formal levels of stronger punishment of Wilson — expulsion from the House, censure or reprimand.
Only 35 such measures have been passed in U.S. history, with only five members expelled.
Fred Beuttler, deputy House historian, said lesser measures, like Tuesday’s “resolution of disapproval,” were rare. Neither he nor the Congressional Research Service could say how many such measures had been passed before Tuesday’s vote.
Karen Floyd, chairwoman of the S.C. Republican Party, criticized the punishment of Wilson.
“The fact that Democrats are still seeking to attack Representative Wilson days after he apologized for his outburst goes to show that their action today is about nothing more than politics,” Floyd said.
Inglis joined six other Republicans in voting for the disciplinary measure. He had personally met with Wilson on Monday and again Tuesday in an unsuccessful effort to persuade him to apologize to his colleagues for his yell.
Inglis, who represents the conservative Upstate, said Wilson’s apology to Obama immediately after his speech wasn’t enough.
“Joe also broke House rules,” Inglis said. “That problem could easily be fixed by an apology to the House. In the absence of an apology, the House could choose to police itself through a resolution of disapproval.”
The resolution of disapproval said Wilson had violated House rules governing conduct of the chamber’s 435 members.
At a conference Tuesday of all Republican members, Boehner directed other GOP lawmakers to vote against the resolution of disapproval, Inglis said.
“I have to go home to five kids who are always told to do the right thing,” Inglis told McClatchy. “It’s a matter of redeeming the rule of law. There are rules of the House. They must be followed, and when they’re broken, there are consequences.”
Inglis said several Republican lawmakers came up to him after the meeting and said they agreed with him but wouldn’t be able to vote for the resolution.
Wilson, 62, has become more defiant in recent days, saying Obama accepted his late-night apology last Wednesday.
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh said earlier Tuesday that Wilson would get more campaign contributions than any House candidate ever if he were sanctioned.
Already, in less than five days since his now-famous shout-out, Wilson and his Democratic opponent, Rob Miller, have raised more than $3 million combined, in excess of $1.5 million apiece.
That is $1.25 million more than Wilson, a retired Army National Guard colonel, and Miller, an Iraq war veteran and former Marine Corps captain, raised during 24 months for their contest in November.
At the White House, spokesman Bill Burton called the vote “House business,” saying the president already had accepted Wilson’s apology.
McClatchy reporters William Douglas, David Goldstein and Margaret Talev contributed. Rosen covers Washington for McClatchy newspapers in South Carolina.