As far as Capitol Hill observers could remember, it was an unprecedented breach of protocol and showed utter disrespect for the office of the presidency. Congressman Joe Wilson, a conservative Republican from South Carolina, the erstwhile GOP co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, angrily shouted "You lie," stunning his fellow lawmakers, including his own Republican colleagues, and interrupting President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress on his proposed health care reform.
Wilson, a regular fixture at Indian-American events, and who till recently had on his staff, Dino Teppara--who had the distinction of being the seniormost Indian American staffer on Capitol Hill as Wilson's chief of staff--screamed "You lie," when Obama asserted that the health care reform he proposed would not cover illegal immigrants as some had alleged in their criticism of the Democrats' health care plan.
Interestingly, Congressman Joe Crowley, New York Democrat and also a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who described Wilson's audible outburst which echoed across the chamber as "outrageous," was the Democratic co-chair of the India Caucus--the largest country caucus in the US House of Representatives--at the time Wilson was the Republican co-chair.
Crowley, according to the New York Times, said Wilson's lack of respect for the office of the presidency
reminded him of the "antics that are being used to disrupt and fog what is going on."
He was apparently referring to the Republican disruptions at recent public town hall meetings where Democratic lawmakers have been shouted down when they tried to explain the merits of the heath care reform proposals.
The Times reported that after the speech, Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, who sat a few rows in front of Wilson had immediately approached senior Republican lawmakers to encourage them to identify the heckler and urge him to issue an apology quickly.
Emanuel said, 'No president has been treated like that. Ever."
The Republican leader in the US Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, also clearly embarrassed by Wilson's heckling, said it was out of line. "I think we ought to treat the President with respect and anything other than that is not appropriate."
Wilson obviously rattled by the strong reaction to his outburst, including from his own party members, including the likes of McConnell, slunk away from the chamber as soon as Obama finished his speech as the media, once it came to know who the heckler was rushed to buttonhole him.
Later his office issued an apology where a contrite Wilson said, 'This evening I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the President's remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill."
"While a disagree with the President's statements, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable," he said, and added, "I extend sincere apologies to the President for his lack of civility."
It was reported that Wilson had also phoned the White House and reached Emanuel and personally apologized for his lack of decorum and Emanuel had accepted the apology on behalf of the President.