By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Having initially announced that U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson's apology for his interruption of President Barack Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress was sufficient, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., may eventually rue the day she changed her mind.
Tuesday the House voted, virtually along party lines, to approve a resolution of disapproval lodged against Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina, for calling out "you lie" when Obama claimed during his speech that paying the healthcare costs of uninsured illegal immigrants was not part of the healthcare reform agenda.
At the time, the only healthcare reform package available for public examination was H.R. 3200, the bill introduced and passed out of several committees in the U.S. House of Representatives. And it, according to a number of knowledgeable critics of the bill, treats illegals quite differently than the president suggested was the case during his speech.
Since Wilson registered his objection, administration officials have been spitting hairs, claiming Obama was talking about his proposal, not H.R. 3200. However, the White House has yet to send its version of healthcare reform legislation to Capitol Hill, making it difficult to render a final conclusion on the president's veracity.
Nevertheless Pelosi has opened herself up for considerable criticism by bringing the issue of Wilson's remark to the floor for an official and, say critics, needless rebuke.
U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., chairman of the House Republican Conference and No. 3 in the chamber's GOP leadership, said Wednesday that Wilson's action was an "understandable" response to the "harsh partisanship" coming from the president and wondered why Pelosi was "taking time in the people's house to demand an apology from someone (Wilson) who had already apologized" at a time when there are any number of much more serious issues for the House to consider.
Acknowledging that Wilson's interruption of the president was "regrettable," Pence suggested it may have nonetheless served the broader national interest by shine additional sunlight on one of the more conspicuous problems with the House Democratic leadership's healthcare package.
More to the point, the vote to render official House disapproval of Wilson's comment stands in stark contrast to Pelosi's failure to lead the House in a public admonishing of several current and former member of her own Democratic caucus, including current House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., who recently revised several of his financial disclosure forms to correct "misstatements" and former Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., who was found to have a large cache of cash hidden in a freezer in his Washington home.
Jefferson, who lost his bid for re-election in 2008, was later found guilty on 11 counts of corruption.
Some Republicans on Capitol Hill are already comparing what was done to Wilson to "Indiana 8," a seminal moment for the GOP in its efforts to retake control of the Congress from the Democrats after four decades.
In that case Republican Rick McIntyre won an extremely close race in Indiana's 8th Congressional District in 1984. But a complaint was lodged and the Democratically-controlled House eventually voted on party lines to seat McIntyre's Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Frank McCloskey. Enraged, then-House Republican leader Bob Michel, R-Ill., led his partisan colleagues in a "walk out" of the chamber in protest of the outcome.
The decision to seat McCloskey over McIntyre, who had been certified as the winner by Indiana's secretary of state, convinced a number of moderate Republicans that the only way they were ever going to get a fair shake from the Democrats was to actually take control of the House—a significant turn of events that help a backbench Georgia congressman named Newt Gingrich win a place in the GOP leadership. Whether the action taken against Wilson will be seen as a defining moment in the GOP's march back to majority has yet to be determined but some people are already drawing comparisons.