Democratic Lawmaker: Wilson Remark Could Lead to Racists in ‘White Hoods’

Posted September 15, 2009 at 2:49pm

Updated: 3:59 p.m.

Racial tensions boiled over Tuesday in advance of a formal vote rebuking Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) for his “You lie!— scream at President Barack Obama, with one black Democratic Member suggesting that Wilson’s remark would lead to racists in “white hoods and white uniforms again riding through the countryside.—

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) ripped Wilson as having “winked— at a racist element, which had appeared at town halls over the August recess opposing the president.

“There is no question when you look at the banners and posters and some of the comments that are made there is a fringe element that feels racial hatred toward African-Americans and that vein has been opened up for public display, and I don’t think there should be many Republicans who would sanction that kind of excessive, radical, almost anarchist type of mentality,— Johnson told reporters.

Wilson “did not help the cause of diversity and tolerance with his remarks. If I were a betting man I would say that he instigated more racist sentiment, feeling that it’s okay. You don’t need to bury it now. … I guess we’ll probably have folks putting on white hoods and white uniforms again riding through the countryside intimidating people. That’s the logical conclusion if this kind of attitude is not rebuked and Congressman Wilson represents. … That’s why I support the resolution.—

Asked again about Wilson’s comments, Johnson added, “I think what he did was kind of winked at that element and said it’s okay.—

But House Democratic leaders stopped short of tying Wilson’s comments to race. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he didn’t see a racial connotation. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who along with other Members of the Congressional Black Caucus has been vocal in seeking a vote to formally rebuke Wilson, declined to say whether he thought race was a factor. Clyburn, along with other Democrats, said that Wilson’s outburst wouldn’t have been tolerated by a teacher in a classroom, and shouldn’t be tolerated on the House floor.

The one-sentence resolution, released by Hoyer on Tuesday afternoon, simply disapproves of Wilson’s interruption of Obama’s speech. The interruption “was a breach of decorum and degraded the proceedings of the joint session, to the discredit of the House,— the resolution reads.

The House was set to begin debating the resolution of disapproval against Wilson on Tuesday afternoon. Democratic leaders went ahead with the reprimand after Wilson refused to apologize for his outburst on the House floor.

Wilson for the second day in a row Tuesday rose for a one-minute speech but did not address his breach of the House’s rules of decorum, which the Rules Committee reiterated earlier in the day. Those rules prohibit Members from attacking each other or the president personally on the House floor, including calling each other liars or referring to such items as sexual misconduct.

Wilson’s wife also took to YouTube in a new campaign video to defend her husband, saying he didn’t deserve the rebuke from the House after he apologized to the White House for his outburst.

The incident has been a fundraising bonanza for Wilson and his Democratic opponent, Rob Miller, with both raising more than $1.5 million in the past week.

House Republican leaders said earlier Tuesday that the resolution was a “distraction— from the heath care reform debate and said the Congress should move on.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he will vote against the disapproval resolution but said GOP Members will make up their own minds as to how they will vote.

But the GOP campaign committees aggressively attacked Democrats for failing to hold their Members to the same standards.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele called the resolution a “stunning example of hypocrisy— and criticized House Democrats for failing to address ethical concerns surrounding Reps. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and John Murtha (D-Pa.) and former Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), as well as Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) charge that the CIA had misled Congress over the use of harsh interrogation tactics.

Tory Newmyer and Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.