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Wilson apologizes, but says won't be muzzled

Rep. Joe Wilson apologized for his outburst, but is telling supporters he will "not be muzzled." Democratic leaders announced plans Friday to vote to admonish him unless he apologizes on the House floor.
/ Source: The Associated Press

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.

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.

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.