Video: Congressional heckler defends his message

  1. Closed captioning of: Congressional heckler defends his message

    >>> latest on that just ahead.

    >>> but we'll begin with fallout from president obama 's address on health care reform and that congressional heckler. our savannah guthrie is at the white house with the latest. good morning.

    >> reporter: good morning. well, the health care debate will pause as the president marks the 9/11 anniversary at the pentagon . but on thursday he tried to create momentum from that big speech while the focus continued to be on the republican congressman who interrupted it. congressman joe wilson emerged from his office appearing shaken.

    >> i heard from the leadership that they wanted me to contact the white house and state that my statements were inappropriate. i did. i'm very grateful that the white house , in talking with them, they indicated that they appreciated the call.

    >> reporter: wilson stunned the house chamber wednesday night when he shouted out during the president's speech, accusing him of lying.

    >> the reforms -- the reforms i am proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

    >> you lie!

    >> that's not true.

    >> reporter: meeting with his cabinet at the white house thursday, the president was asked if he accepted the congressman's apology.

    >> yes, i do. i'm a big believer that we all make mistakes. he apologized quickly. and without equivocation. and i'm appreciative of that.

    >> reporter: on capitol hill , house speaker nancy pelosi said wilson violated house rules . but rather than sanction him, she wants to move on.

    >> the episode was unfortunate. mr. wilson has apologized. it's time for us to talk about health care and not mr. wilson .

    >> reporter: but there may be a political price. democratic officials say wilson 's campaign opponent has received more than $700,000 in campaign contributions since the speech. and the congressman's website got so much traffic, it had to be shut down. his facebook fan page loaded with comments, many supportive.

    >> on these issues, i will not be muzzled. i will speak up and speak loudly against this risky plan.

    >> reporter: after apologizing again on his website, a defiant wilson asked supporters for donations to keep up the fight against obama 's health care plan.

    >> the support is to take over the government health care and those who want to give health care to illegals are using my opposition as an excuse to distract from the critical questions being raised about this poorly conceived plan.

    >> reporter: well, the congressman's office says it's seen a fund-raising boom since the speech, too. and there's something of a debate on capitol hill right now. some democrats think that wilson should have to go to the house floor or apologize or think there should be sanctions. other democrats like speaker pelosi and the white house , too, thinks we should all just move on. matt?

    >> all right, savannah guthrie at the white house . savannah, thank you very much .

updated 9/11/2009 1:14:49 PM ET 2009-09-11T17:14:49

Democratic leaders will vote early next week on whether to admonish Republican Rep. Joe Wilson if he does not apologize on the House floor for yelling "You lie!" during President Barack Obama's health care address.

Brendan Daly, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said Friday that party leaders decided they will likely move forward with a resolution of disapproval against Wilson if he doesn't apologize to Congress.

Wilson told Obama he was sorry shortly after the incident on Wednesday, but has refused requests to apologize on the floor. Wilson's office says the congressman considers his initial apology sufficient. He has also been telling supporters he will continue to speak loudly about the issue and "not be muzzled."

Obama said Thursday he accepted Wilson's apology, telling reporters that "we all make mistakes." The White House said it considered the incident over, and Pelosi, D-Calif., initially agreed, saying she wanted to focus on moving health care legislation forward.

But many Democrats remain angry with Wilson's insult and have pressed for further action. They say the insult clearly violated House rules.

While voicing public contrition, Wilson, meanwhile, has taken a more combative tone behind the scenes.

In a video posted on his campaign Web site, he acknowledged that he let his emotions get away from him during Obama's speech but added, "I will not be muzzled. I will speak up and speak loudly about this risky plan."

Wilson said his critics want to use the flap over his outburst to silence opponents of health care reform, and he urged supporters to rally to him.

"I need your help now," he said.

Asked if Wilson planned to apologize to the House, spokesman Ryan Murphy said the congressman "apologized to the president and the president accepted and said let's move on and have a civil discourse, and the congressman agrees."

A political boost
Support is stilling pouring for Wilson's Democratic opponent. Since Obama's health care address Wednesday night, the campaign coffers of Rob Miller, who is challenging him in 2010, swelled by $750,000 by Friday morning, according to Jessica Santillo of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. It's not clear whether the people who made the donations live in South Carolina.

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Video: Rep. Wilson: 'It was spontaneous'

The Republican Congressional Campaign Committee didn't respond to questions about donations to Wilson's campaign. Wilson's campaign voicemail box was full Friday and his office phones either went to voicemail or were not answered.

Wilson's outburst made some supporters shudder even as others believed it could give him a political boost in his conservative hometown.

"He's the only one who has guts in that whole place. He'll get re-elected in a landslide," said John Roper, an insurance agent, as he sat among patrons at a diner near Columbia.

Still, Southern sensibilities reign in the district the 62-year-old has represented for the past eight years. Added Roper, "He probably shouldn't have said it in that context."

Wilson's shout came after Obama said extending health care to all Americans who seek it would not mean insuring illegal immigrants.

Who's who in the health care debate

The House version of the health care bill explicitly prohibits spending any federal money to help illegal immigrants get health care. Illegal immigrants could buy private health insurance, as many do now, but wouldn't get tax subsidies to help them. Still, Republicans say there aren't sufficient citizenship verification requirements to ensure illegal immigrants are excluded.

In Wilson's district, many voters said the heckle wouldn't affect their support for him. Some said they wished more politicians would speak their minds — but most said they wished it hadn't happened.

"Joe was very immature. He's always been pretty under control. I'm a little embarrassed," said Roy Smith, a business manager who spoke as he ate breakfast in Cayce. "I voted for Joe and probably still will."

Wilson's eldest son, Alan — who is running for state attorney general — agreed Thursday that his father chose the wrong place to vent, but said the heckle shows that "what the president said really struck a chord."

"I think everyone understands that he was basically voicing the frustration of the American people," Alan Wilson told CBS's "The Early Show" on Friday.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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