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House Criticizes Lawmaker for Conduct During Obama Address to Congress

By a vote of 240 to 179, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved a resolution criticizing the conduct of a Republican lawmaker who called President Barack Obama a liar as he was addressing a joint session of Congress last week about health care reform.

During his address to the joint session, President Obama was the focus of an outburst by Representative Joe Wilson, a conservative Republican from the state of South Carolina.

As the president responded to one of many criticisms Republicans and other opponents have made against health care reform legislation pending in the House, Congressman Wilson was heard above the noise in the chamber calling the president a liar.

OBAMA: "There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This too is false. The reforms I am proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally."

WILSON: "You lie!"

OBAMA: "It's not true."

Seated behind the president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cast an angry gaze in Wilson's direction after the breach of decorum, while Vice President Biden lowered his head in disgust.

At a news conference a day later, Pelosi indicated that she preferred that the House of Representatives not take action on the matter, saying moving ahead with the health care reform issue was more important.

But another South Carolina lawmaker and key Democratic leader, Representative Jim Clyburn, was among those insisting that lawmakers address Wilson's conduct so it does not encourage similar behavior in the future.

Clyburn spoke as Democrats introduced a resolution of disapproval which, when applied to an action by a member of the House, constitutes the most minor of four levels of rebuke after expulsion, censure and reprimand.

"When one of us, while seated in a formal session, severely violates the rules of this body by shamelessly hurling accusations of mendacity toward a president of the United States, our commander-in-chief, and refuses to formally express remorse, we at a minimum are duty-bound to express our disapproval," he said.

For many lawmakers, including Clyburn and other African American members of Congress, the issue of Wilson' disrespect for the president went beyond politics, against the background of opposition to President Obama's health care reform effort that has in some cases taken on racial overtones.

Congressman Wilson's refusal to stand on the House floor and repeat his apology a second time, which members of his party had urged him to do, added to Democrat's anger.

Wilson was the first Republican to speak to the resolution, asserting again that his one apology to President Obama, telephoned to the White House, should be sufficient.

"I think it is clear to the American people that there are far more important issues facing this nation than what we are addressing right now," he said. "The president said the time for games is over. I agree with the president. He graciously accepted my apology and the issue is over."

Wilson's Republican colleagues called him a good man who made a mistake, and asserted that the matter should have been put to rest with his personal apology to the president.

House Republican leader John Boehner called the Democrat's resolution a distraction from the debate over health care reform and economic issues.

"I think this is a sad day for the House of Representatives," said Boehner. "I think that this is nothing more than a partisan stunt aimed at trying to divert people's attention from the real issue that the American people want to talk [about] and that is health care."

In the end, the Democratic-controlled House voted to approve the resolution calling Wilson's behavior a breach of decorum that brought discredit to the House, with 12 Democrats voting with Republicans, and seven Republicans supporting the measure. Five Democrats voted present.

It was the first time that a House member has been disciplined for speaking out against a president during an address to a joint session of Congress.