Less than twenty-four hours after his “You lie!” outburst during President Obama’s Wednesay night speech , Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) took a few moments from phone calls, interviews, and comments from colleagues from both parties to talk to HUMAN EVENTS.
“The reaction from my constituents [in South Carolina’s Columbia-based Second District] has been overwhelmingly positive,” Wilson told me, “They know I apologized to the President for speaking out. They also know I am very much in favor of health care reform but against big government-run health care.”
Coverage of Wilson, of course, rivaled that of Obama himself in the news today, as press in and outside the United States noted the lawmaker’s shout at the point in the President’s address when Obama declared that his health care plan did not cover illegal immigrants.
To hear the liberal media report it, the Republican congressman long considered a cinch for re-election suddenly has a race on his hands because of the “outrage” over his comment. News reports throughout the day pointed out that Wilson’s likely Democratic opponent next year, retired U.S. Marine Rob Miller, had raised more than $450,000 nationwide since the evening of the Obama speech.
So how is Wilson himself faring?
“We’re still counting contributions that have been coming in since last night,” Wilson told me, “We’re encouraged and hopeful.” (An aide to the congressman estimated that Wilson had received about $250,000 himself in fresh donations since the previous evening, “but you know the left-wing fund-raising machine is stronger than what we have.”
In terms of grass-roots support, however, there are signs that Wilson is going great guns. As one Wilson supporter in Columbia told me, “Some unknown who started marketing T-shirts with the legend ‘I’m For Joe Wilson’ is getting great response ‘cause people stop us everywhere to say they ordered the shirts.” In addition, the congressman’s top aide Eric Dell told me that a mass rally in Columbia Friday evening to show local support of Wilson.
“And folks everywhere are coming up to me to say they like ‘Joe the Congressman,’” said Dell, noting the similarity between his boss’s new nickname to that of “Joe the Plumber.”
“I Was Appalled Because I Knew Better”
As has almost always been the case when I have talked to the 61-year-old congressman (a HUMAN EVENTS subscriber since he attended a “Draft Goldwater” rally as a teenager in 1963), Wilson preferred a serious discussion of the issue at hand to that of all the furor and himself as an “Internet rock star.”
“When the President said his health care plan did not cover illegal immigrants, I knew the information he was providing was incorrect,” he said, recalling how he has followed the amendments for enforcement that were offered to it in the House Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce Committees.
“And I have read the bill,” Wilson added, referring to H.R. 3200, the measure containing the Obama-backed health care plan.
With all the amendments defeated, he said, “there was no enforcement mechanism to bar health care and benefits and subsidies with which illegal aliens can buy insurance.” He also noted that this was the conclusion of a report by the Congressional Research Service which just a month ago concluded that “there were no workable restrictions on non-citizens getting benefits in the President’s health care plan.”
When the President said in his speech that his plan did not cover illegal aliens, Wilson told me, “I was appalled because I knew better.
A Similar Clash –With Obama and Lamar Smith
Almost ignored by the national media is that, somewhat incredibly, a similar clash between Obama and a Republican House Member over coverage for illegal aliens was actually played out last month with in a slightly different way. In the President’s weekly radio address on August 22nd, Obama began by calling it a “false claim that illegal immigrants will get health insurance under reform.” Rep. Lamar Smith (R.-Tex.), ranking Member on the House Judiciary Committee, remonstrated that: “Democrats can keep claiming all they want that illegal immigrants will not be covered in this bill. But their actions speak louder than their words. Democrats have rejected opportunities to close the gaping loopholes in this health care bill that will allow illegal immigrants to participate.
“If President Obama is committed to ensuring that illegal immigrants do not benefit from the bill — as he says he is — why not include the same verification mechanisms in this bill as already exist for other federal benefits programs?
“What’s more, the bill contains no provisions preventing illegal immigrants from participating in the Health Insurance Exchange that is to be created, including the government-run “public plan” that will be available through the federally-run and federally-subsidized Exchange.”
Joe Wilson, of course, telephoned White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel and apologized for the outburst. Emmanuel, he noted, “accepted my apology with sincerity.”
“I have had colleagues come up to me and give me support and encouragement all day,” said Wilson, “They say ‘I know you’ and they know my apology was sincere. And a number of them are Democrats.”
Would he give me the names of those Democrats, I asked?
“No,” Wilson replied, “I won’t put them in jeopardy.”