WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama accepted a South Carolina Republican’s apology for shouting, “You lie!” during his speech to Congress, and House Democratic leaders showed no interest in sanctions against Rep. Joe Wilson.
Obama said Thursday that Wilson apologized “quickly and without equivocation” and the congressman told reporters the shout-out was “spontaneous.” “We all make mistakes,” Obama told reporters, a day after Wilson stunned the president and his colleagues with his outburst.
Infuriated Democrats briefly considered sanctioning the four-term congressman, but decided early to look beyond it.
“It’s time for us to talk about health care, not Mr. Wilson,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Though stunned and visibly furious at the interruption, Pelosi said she opted not to gavel down Wilson on the spot. Obama, she said, was right to pitch right back into his speech and not “give it any more attention than it deserved.”
Wilson told reporters Thursday morning he was “very grateful” to have been able to have a talk with the White House. He said officials there voiced an interest in “a civil conversation” on health care and said he agreed with that.
“It was spontaneous,” he said. “It was when he (Obama) stated, as he did, about not (health care insurance) not covering illegal aliens … We need to discuss the issues and I’m happy to do that.”
The reaction to Wilson’s outburst was punishing even without official House action.
His Web site crashed, he took a beating on Twitter as Republicans and Democrats alike condemned his behavior.
Wilson bolted the chamber as soon as Obama was finished speaking. Shortly thereafter, he issued an apology and called the White House to deliver one to the president personally. But he ended up on the line with Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s fiery chief of staff, instead.
“This evening I let my emotions get the best of me,” he said in a statement. “While I disagree with the president’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility.”
The morning talk shows were mere hours away.
“I was embarrassed for the chamber and a Congress I love,” Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “It demeaned the institution.”
“I know that Congressman Wilson has issued an apology and made his thoughts known to the White House, which was the appropriate thing to do,” said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va.
The House’s guest chaplain, seemed to refer to the Wilson incident in an invocation as the floor session opened Thursday.
“Gracious God, we meet in a challenging moment of your history. We cannot control all that may endanger us, but we can choose our behavior and the example we set as leaders,” said The Very Rev. George L.W. Werner, dean emeritus of Trinity Cathedral in Pittsburgh.
Back on Wilson’s home turf, the uproar turned into a boon for Democrat Rob Miller, his opponent in next year’s midterm elections.
In the first 24 hours after Wilson’s outburst, Miller’s campaign coffers swelled by $200,000, according to Jessica Santillo of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The contribution, she said, came in from 5,000 individual contributions.
Associated Press writers David Espo and Ben Evans in Washington and Jim Davenport in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.
Photo: Rep. Joe Wilson