WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama accepted a South Carolina Republican's apology for shouting, "You lie!" during his speech to Congress, and House Democratic leaders showed no interest in sanctions against Rep. Joe Wilson.
Obama said Thursday that Wilson apologized "quickly and without equivocation" and the congressman told reporters the shout-out was "spontaneous."
"We all make mistakes," Obama told reporters, a day after Wilson stunned the president and his colleagues with his outburst.
Infuriated Democrats briefly considered sanctioning the four-term congressman, but decided early Thursday that doing so might distract lawmakers from getting an agreement to overhaul health insurance.
"It's time for us to talk about health care, not Mr. Wilson," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Wilson's behavior generated plenty of talk.
He erupted after Obama stated that his health care overhaul would not "insure illegal immigrants."
"You lie!" Wilson shouted from his seat.
The House version of the health care bill explicitly prohibits spending any federal money to help illegal immigrants get health care coverage. The bill's exact language: "Nothing in this subtitle shall allow federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully in the United States."
But Wilson is far from alone in thinking that the prohibition in the House bill doesn't go far enough. For him and other Republicans, the problem is not what's in the bill, it's what the bill leaves out – namely a provision to enforce the no-illegals rule.
In the chamber at that moment, a stunned and angry Pelosi opted not to gavel down Wilson on the spot. Obama, she said, was right to pitch right back into his speech and not "give it any more attention than it deserved."
"It was spontaneous," Wilson said Thursday. "It was when he (Obama) stated, as he did, about not (health care insurance) not covering illegal aliens ... We need to discuss the issues and I'm happy to do that."
Wilson told reporters he called the White House at the urging of senior Republicans and was grateful to have talked with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Wilson said he agreed with the White House' interest in pursuing "a civil conversation" on health care.
The reaction to Wilson's outburst, nevertheless, was punishing – even without the specter of official House action.
His Web site crashed, he took a beating on Twitter as Republicans and Democrats alike condemned his behavior.
Wilson bolted the chamber as soon as Obama was finished speaking. Shortly thereafter, he issued an apology and called the White House to deliver one to the president personally. But he ended up on the line with Rahm Emanuel, Obama's fiery chief of staff, instead.
"This evening I let my emotions get the best of me," he said in a statement. "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."
The morning talk shows were mere hours away.
"I was embarrassed for the chamber and a Congress I love," Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday on ABC's "Good Morning America." "It demeaned the institution."
A visiting House chaplain, the Very Rev. George L.W. Werner, opened Thursday's session with this invocation: "Gracious God, we meet in a challenging moment of your history. We cannot control all that may endanger us, but we can choose our behavior and the example we set as leaders."
Back on Wilson's home turf, the uproar turned into a boon for Democrat Rob Miller, his opponent in next year's midterm elections.
In the first 24 hours after Wilson's outburst, Miller's campaign coffers swelled by $200,000, according to Jessica Santillo of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The contribution, she said, came in from 5,000 individual contributions.
Associated Press writers David Espo and Ben Evans in Washington and Jim Davenport in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.