WASHINGTON — House Democrats reaffirmed plans to take up a resolution as early as Tuesday scolding defiant Republican Rep. Joe Wilson, who shocked colleagues by yelling "You lie!" during President Barack Obama's address to Congress last week.
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Democratic aides say Rep. James Clyburn, a fellow South Carolinian, will introduce a resolution of disapproval, probably on Tuesday afternoon, with a vote later in the day. The aides spoke anonymously because no public announcement had been made.
Wilson telephoned White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and "expressed his apologies" after the episode last week but he has rejected Democratic calls to make a similar statement on the House floor.
Wilson says his initial apology was enough.
The House generally requires its members to abstain from personal insults during debate. Over the years, the institution has developed a long list of precedents deemed out of order, including insults directed at the president.
Some are downright odd: You can't call the president "a little bugger" or refer to any alleged sexual misconduct, for example. Others are more predictable: Don't call the president a liar or accuse him of lying.
Democrats initially cited the latter precedent in saying that Wilson's outburst was a violation.
But Congress was meeting in a special joint session for Obama's speech on Wednesday, not under the House's normal rules of debate.
"It doesn't violate House rules because the House wasn't in (normal) session," said Donald Wolfensberger, director of the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.
Wolfensberger noted that under regular rules, House lawmakers wouldn't be allowed to stand and cheer as they frequently do at presidential speeches before Congress.
House Parliamentarian John Sullivan agreed that the House's rules on debate probably don't apply to the incident. But he and others said the House has wide latitude in interpreting its general code of conduct that says "a lawmaker shall conduct himself at all times in a manner which shall reflect creditably on the House of Representatives."
A lawmaker doesn't have to violate a specific rule to get scolded.
‘Question of decorum’
"This probably is not a question of decorum in debate as much as a question of decorum generally," Sullivan said.
Wilson — a conservative who won a 2001 special election to earn his seat in Congress — apologized to the White House and in a written public statement shortly after hurling the insult last week.
Many Democrats, however, have insisted that he also apologize directly to the House, saying the outburst was at least a general breach of decorum. At first, Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested that everyone just move on. But Pelosi changed her mind after Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in Congress, called for a resolution of disapproval if Wilson doesn't apologize again on the House floor.
Wilson's unusual outburst came as Obama said illegal immigrants would not be eligible for low-cost health care.
The Democratic proposals on health explicitly prohibit spending any federal money to help illegal immigrants get health care. Still, Republicans say the legislation needs stronger citizenship verification to ensure illegal immigrants are excluded.
After the uproar, Senate Democrats said last week they were negotiating stronger verification requirements to be included in the bill.
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