Two members of the Arizona Congressional delegation on Tuesday (Sept. 15) broke with their party leaders over whether to punish Rep. Joe Wilson, the South Carolina Republican whose outburst during President Obama’s speech caused national alarm.
Democrats offered a resolution of disapproval, formally rebuking Wilson for yelling “You lie” during last week’s address on health care. Wilson had apologized to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, but he refused entreaties from both Republican and Democratic leaders to apologize on the floor of the House.
Rep. Jeff Flake, of Snowflake, was one of just seven Republicans to vote in favor of the resolution. In a statement explaining his vote, Flake said he had voted to uphold House rules.
“Despite my suspicion that this resolution was driven as much by partisan politics as upholding precedent, I believe that it’s important to maintain the rules of decorum in the House and I supported its passage,” Flake said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was one of a dozen Democrats voting against the measure, spearheaded by House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland. In explaining her vote, Giffords echoed many Republicans who said the resolution was a waste of time.
Calling Wilson’s outburst “unfortunate” and suggesting he apologize on his own, Giffords noted Wilson’s apology to the White House. “We should not waste any more time on this matter. We need to stay focused on health insurance reform and improving our economy,” Giffords said.
Giffords joined a motley crew of liberal and centrist Democrats in opposing the measure. Reps. Jim McDermott, a Democrat from Washington State, and Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio Democrat, are among their party’s left flank, while Rep. Michael Arcuri of New York and Gene Taylor of Mississippi are two of the more conservative Democrats in the House.
Flake voiced concern that both parties were slipping into a morass of verbal mudslinging as political debate becomes less civil.
“While the tenor of political debate seems to get more disrespectful every year, the floor of the House of Representatives has always provided a welcome respite. Even the fiercest political opponents refer to each other as ‘gentleman’ and afford one another civility and respect,” he said. “We need to uphold that tradition.”