GOP paved way for Wilson reprimand
Washington, Sep 15, 2009 - If Rep. Joe Wilson is finding parliamentary procedure to be a bit of a nuisance in the wake of his “you lie” attack on President Barack Obama, he has his Republican forbearers to thank.
On June 26, 1985, Rep. Robert Walker – a Pennsylvania Republican who beat the drum for decorum throughout his 20 years in the House – took issue with Rep. James Traficant for saying that then-President Ronald Reagan had deceived the senior citizens of the United States.
“Is it not a violation of the rules of the House to question the motives of the president and to refer to him as being someone who lies?” Walker asked on the floor.
“The gentleman is correct,” agreed then-Speaker Tip O’Neill . “It is not proper.”
O’Neill ordered that Traficant’s offending remarks be stricken from the record and directed the congressman – subsequently convicted on federal corruption charges – to “revise his remarks.”
Traficant’s toupee wasn’t Walker’s only scalp.
In 1986, Walker demanded that the words of Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) be “taken down” after Markey said that “hypocrisy had characterized” Reagan’s handling of arms control.
Then, on Sept. 24, 1992, Walker went after Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) after DeFazio attempted to defend then-Democratic nominee Bill Clinton against House Republican attacks over his memory of the Vietnam era by going after then-President George H.W. Bush’s memory of the Iran-Contra affair.
“Well,” said DeFazio, “it turns out that the president’s recollection of affairs of state a mere six years ago when he was vice president of the United States are contradicted by Secretary [Caspar] Weinberger and Secretary [George] Shultz.”
DeFazio proceeded to read from a Washington Post story:
“New information emerging from court cases and congressional records since Bush last ran for president has cast fresh doubt on his assertion that he was ‘out of the loop’ generally involved in and largely unaware of the most controversial Iran-Contra operations.”
Walker stepped in.
“Mr. Speaker, I demand the gentleman’s words be taken,” he exclaimed. “I demand the gentleman’s words be taken down.”
As Walker persisted, DeFazio stood his ground.
“I am certainly not going to withdraw the printed quote,” he said, from whence a parliamentary inquiry was conducted.
Ultimately, the speaker pro tempore, former Rep. Ron Mazzoli (D-Kentucky), rendered this judgment: “The chair has ruled that [DeFazio] was out of order on that part of his remarks…If [Walker] wishes to object to any of the other members who may want to read from printed material, the gentleman would be in order, subject to the will of the House.”
The question whether a member could attack the president’s veracity via quoted material emerged again on Nov. 15, 1995, when Republican Rep. David Dreier used a David Broder line to launch an attack on Clinton.
After going through a litany of Clinton statements about balancing the budget, Dreier said: “Looking at those statement that were made by the president, one could not help but think once again of what David Broder referred to in his very famous column back in 1993 as the ‘trust deficit.’”
Dreier was admonished for his statements and told his defense – “I was quoting, Mr. Speaker” – did not make for a suitable excuse.
The prohibition on attacking the president’s integrity dates back to Thomas Jefferson’s Manual of Parliamentary Practice for the Use of the Senate of the United States, which he wrote in 1801. In 1909, the House made his proscriptions the explicit rules of decorum, and has put abridgements of his manual in a pamphlet titled, “Constitution, Jefferson's Manual, and Rules of the House of Representatives.”
It stipulates that: “Personal abuse, innuendo, or ridicule of the president, is not permitted. Under this standard it is not in order to call the president, or a presumptive major-party nominee for president, a ‘liar’ or accuse him of ‘lying.’ Indeed, any suggestion of mendacity is out of order.”
If Wilson has any doubts about the prohibition, he needs only goes back to June 6, 1996, when his current Republican colleague in the South Carolina delegation, Rep. Bob Inglis, was holding the gavel.
“The chair admonishes members not to refer to the president in terms personally offensive,” Inglis told the House that day.
Inglis has urged Wilson to apologize for his outburst.
Original Article: Politico.com