The House of Representatives voted on Tuesday night to condemn Joe Wilson, the Republican representative from South Carolina, for shouting “You lie!” at President Barack Obama during his address to Congress last week.
A resolution of disapproval against Mr Wilson was passed by 240 votes to 179. It was led by Democrats but supported by seven Republicans.
The move was ridiculed as a political “game” by Mr Wilson and the Republican leadership in the House.
After a summer of often acrimonious debates about healthcare, Mr Wilson, a relative unknown, protested against Mr Obama’s plans for healthcare reform during the president’s address to the joint houses of Congress last Wednesday.
When Mr Obama refuted Republican claims that his healthcare plans would provide medical services for illegal immigrants, Mr Wilson yelled “You lie!”.
Mr Wilson apologised on Thursday to Rahm Emmanuel, the president’s chief of staff, but Democrats demanded that Mr Wilson also make a formal apology on the House floor. The South Carolina representative refused, saying one apology was enough.
But Steny Hoyer, the Democratic leader in the House, said on Tuesday that Mr Wilson should have apologised to the House because the House rules were offended.
“In the absence of Mr Wilson’s expressing his regret for acting in a manner that almost all agree was both contrary to the spirit of the rules of this House and the common courtesy we should extend to all, and particularly the president of the United States, we have brought forward this resolution,” Mr Hoyer said. “The resolution says simply what hopefully all of us feel: that we ‘disapprove’ of the conduct cited and let others know that such conduct is neither welcome nor approved by this, the people’s house,” he said.
The resolution did not constitute a formal reprimand or censure but created a record that the House rebuked Mr Wilson for breaching the decorum of the chamber.
Mr Wilson objected to the move, dismissing the echoing Mr Obama’s statement during his Congressional address that the time for “games” is over.
“The challenges this country faces are greater than any member of this House,” Mr Wilson told the chamber. “When we are done here today, we will not have taken any steps to improve the country ... It is time we move on.”
Mr Wilson had the support of John Boehner, the minority leader in the House.
“I think this is a political stunt aimed at distracting from the American people from they whey really care about, which is healthcare,” Mr Boehner said. “There’s been behavior in this chamber that’s more serious than this.
Ironically, Mr Wilson’s interjection was seen as so egregious that it actually helped to rally some previously sceptical Democrats around the president.
But it also made Mr Wilson, who is in his fifth two-year term, something of a hero among conservative Republicans. He has since raised more than $1.3m in contributions for his 2010 re-election campaign, compared to a total of $900,000 for his last run.
However, Rob Miller, his Democratic rival, raised more than $900,000 in the last week, according to ActBlue, the Democratic fundraising website.