During President Obama's address on health insurance reform to a joint session of Congress last night, he observed that some people have been spreading bad information about his proposal -- and that contrary to what's been said it would not cover illegal immigrants.
At that point the president was interrupted by Rep. Addison Graves "Joe" Wilson (right), a Republican from South Carolina.
"You lie!" Wilson shouted from the crowd.
Obama paused for a moment before continuing his address as Wilson's colleagues looked on in shock following the breach of protocol.
During a post-speech interview with CNN's Larry King, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Wilson should apologize, calling his behavior "totally disrespectful." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told the New York Times that Wilson's behavior was "not appropriate."
Wilson's office later issued an apology for the outburst:
"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 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."
It was not the first time Wilson -- attorney, U.S. Army vet and former aide to U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond -- has raised eyebrows by shouting at political opponents.
Seven years ago this month, the then-freshman Wilson appeared on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" with five-term Congressman Bob Filner (D-Calif.) to discuss whether to go to war in Iraq, action that Filner opposed but Wilson supported. In the course of the discussion, Filner noted that the U.S. supplied weapons to Saddam Hussein's regime during the Iran-Iraq War -- a fact revealed by the investigation into the Iran-Contra Affair, which discovered the Reagan administration secretly sold weapons to Iran, then under an arms embargo, to win support for freeing U.S. hostages in Lebanon and to fund the Nicaraguan contras, a counterrevolutionary rebel force that was fighting the country's government.
But Filner's statement incensed Wilson, as the Washington Post reported at the time:
"That is wrong. That's made up," Wilson fired back. "I can't believe you would say something like that."
When Filner calmly held his ground, advising Wilson to read newspaper reports and other documentation, the Republican erupted: "This hatred of America by some people is just outrageous. And you need to get over that."
As moderator Connie Brod sat by helplessly, Filner challenged: "Hatred of America? . . . Are you accusing me?"
"Yes!" Wilson shouted. For good measure, over the next minute Wilson accused Filner of harboring "hatred of America" four more times, of being "hateful" three times and of being "viscerally anti-American" once. Filner responded, "This is not worth replying to," and Brod finally regained control of the discussion by taking viewer phone calls.
Whether because of his outspokenness or in spite of it, Wilson is a major recipient of contributions from the health care industry.
In fact, over his entire congressional career, health professionals represent Wilson's top industry contributors, donating a total of $244,196 to his campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics OpenSecrets.org database. He received another $86,150 from pharmaceutical companies, $73,050 from insurance companies and $68,000 from hospitals and nursing homes.
Among Wilson's top contributors are the American Hospital Association, a lobby group that represents the interests of hospitals and health networks, and the American Medical Association, which represents physicians.
(UPDATE: Jed Lewison at Daily Kos has dug up footage of the C-SPAN incident.)