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Reps. Edwards and Franks Debate Joe Wilson's Behavior

Reps. Edwards and Franks Debate Joe Wilson's Behavior

By Hardball - September 15, 2009

U.S. Congresswoman Donna Edwards is from Maryland. She‘s a Democrat. Congresswoman, why is it important for the House to vote disapproval of the conduct of Congressman Joe Wilson?

REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND: I think it‘s really important to our institution. I would have preferred that Mr. Wilson go to the floor and offer an apology to the institution and to the office of the president, but he didn‘t do that. And so he really didn‘t leave us with much choice but to express our disapproval for his conduct before our joint session. I mean, it‘s about our rules, it‘s about the process, and it‘s about honoring and respecting the office of the president and the House of Representatives.

MATTHEWS: You think this is a race thing?

EDWARDS: I don‘t think it is at all. I mean, I spent my time over the weekend in my district, you know, black folks, white folks, you know, across the stripes, Democrats and Republicans, who themselves expressed their disapproval, and really, their dismay. So I don‘t think it‘s really about race. It‘s really about our institutions and...

MATTHEWS: No. I think...

EDWARDS: ... the rules that govern us.

MATTHEWS: I wasn‘t clear, Congresswoman. I mean, was it a racial thing on the part of Wilson? Was he expressing contempt for Barack Obama because of his heritage?

EDWARDS: No, I don‘t think that at all. I mean, I think there‘s been a vigorous debate about the policy and about health care. The problem is that, you know, while he offered a personal apology, it was actually a public offense to the institution. We just don‘t do that. And we have to distinguish ourselves, and in fact, our rules are what distinguish us from other kinds of government.

MATTHEWS: Well, thank you, Congresswoman, for-let‘s take a look now at-thank you for coming over. We‘re going to have to hear from a Republican right now. But stay tuned for-stay-hold on there for a second, please, Congresswoman.

Here‘s Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina in his own defense of saying "You lie" to President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOE WILSON ®, SOUTH CAROLINA: I am humbled and grateful for the support and prayers of my wife, Roxanne (ph), my four sons, my staff, the people of South Carolina, my colleagues and the American people. Mr. Speaker, I think it is clear to the American people that there are far more important issues facing this nation than what we‘re addressing right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Did Congressman Wilson have a point? Is there any way that this bill that we‘re going to vote on in this country-this health care bill, you in Congress, I should say, formally (ph) are going to vote on-does it provide health benefits or subsidies for people in the country illegally? That was his complaint. That was his "You lie" comment.

EDWARDS: Well, I really wish he had read the bill because, in fact, it‘s not what we do at all in the bill. And even if that were true, what he did was actually inappropriate. There‘s a way for him to express his concerns about the substance of the bill, and that wasn‘t it, yelling out "You lie" to the president of the United States.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe that the health care bill should cover people in the country illegally, with its benefits?

EDWARDS: I think we can have that debate, but the reality is that the language...

MATTHEWS: Do you think it should be-no, do you think it should cover illegal immigrants into this country? Should the health care bill cover undocumented workers? Yes or no.

EDWARDS: Well, no, I don‘t. And that‘s not what we‘ve done. What I do think is that we‘re going to have an important debate about immigration, but that‘s not the debate in the health care bill.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, thank you very much for joining us, Congresswoman...

EDWARDS: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: ... Donna Edwards of Maryland.

Michigan Republican Candice Miller hearkened back to President Obama‘s comments about the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates. Here‘s the congresswoman from Michigan in a debate just a moment ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. CANDICE MILLER ®, MICHIGAN: Recently, President Obama made a mistake when referring to actions of the Cambridge police while acknowledging that he did not have all the facts. And in the national uproar that ensued, he called it a "teachable moment." And I thought that was a very human response to an incident that was blown totally out of proportion, in my opinion. And some actually inferred that it had racial overtones. I think what we have here today, Mr. Speaker, is a teachable moment, and it has nothing to do with race.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: OK, here‘s Democratic whip Jim Clyburn, who is really ramrodding this resolution on the floor. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (SC), MAJORITY WHIP: This is not a partisan stunt. I do not participate in partisan stunts, and I think every member here knows that. This is about the proper decorum that should take place on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Let‘s go right now live to Congressman Trent Franks, who joins us. He‘s an Arizona Republican. Let me get to that question with you Congressman. Do you believe this is a, quote, "partisan stunt"? That‘s what your leader, John Boehner, said a moment or so ago on the floor.

REP. TRENT FRANKS ®, ARIZONA: Well, I guess I‘d first say, you know, there‘s an irony here that Joe Wilson is one of the most decent gentleman that we have...

MATTHEWS: OK, is it a partisan stunt...

FRANKS: ... in our House of Representatives.

MATTHEWS: Is it a stunt on the part of the Democrats?

FRANKS: And consequently, if you look at what President Obama and Nancy Pelosi said that night, that we should move on, they‘ve changed their minds. So yes, I think it‘s become a partisan stunt, and I‘m sorry to see that.

MATTHEWS: Why do you think that? How do you know the motives of the House Democrats?

FRANKS: Well, I don‘t speak to their motives. I only speak to what they‘ve said in the past. Nancy Pelosi...

MATTHEWS: You said it‘s a stunt.

FRANKS: ... and the president-yes, Nancy Pelosi and the president said it‘s time to move on, but I think that they begin to see that there might be some political advantage to this, and I think that they have pushed it into a stunt.

Joe has apologized. He knows that he did the wrong thing. And the bottom line is that, you know, there‘s-if I were a doctor, I would diagnose this as selective indignation and double standard. Harry Reid called President Bush a liar, but there‘s two differences. President Bush is a Republican, and Harry Reid has never apologized. So to somehow suggest we‘re going to be restoring the reputation of the House by this vote-we really want to restore the reputation of the House, we‘ll start voting for policies that reflect the great ideals that made America the greatest nation in the world.

MATTHEWS: I respect you for being a member. I look up to anybody who‘s been elected to the House. Somebody once criticized me, saying, I look up to all politicians because I couldn‘t get elected. Boy, finally, some blogger got it right. I do look up to you guys.

Let me ask you this question. Was the affront by Joe Wilson, your colleague, your Republican colleague, against the House or the president? It‘s critical you answer this one way or the other.

FRANKS: I truly believe...

MATTHEWS: The House or the president?

FRANKS: I truly believe that the affront was toward the president...
MATTHEWS: OK.

FRANKS: ... because he spoke to the president there. And he knows he did the wrong thing. But I have to say to you, Chris, if you examine the reality, the president‘s the first one to utter the word "lie" here, and Joe was sort of responding. It was only a minute earlier that the president had...
MATTHEWS: OK.

FRANKS: ... used that word and called a lot of us in the House really indirectly liars. And so the whole process has, indeed, been-like the president says, it‘s been coarsened, but the president has to take responsibility for his part in coarsening this debate...

MATTHEWS: Yes. He...

FRANKS: ... because (INAUDIBLE) people that disagree with him on the health care plan. I myself said something that night that didn‘t get heard. When he said that it didn‘t cover-wouldn‘t cover abortions, I said, That‘s not true. If you look on the tape, that‘s what I said. I didn‘t say it as loud as Joe did. But I think that would have been a better way to say it because Joe was just speaking for a lot of people that they feel like they‘ve just not had their voices heard. And he did it in the wrong way. He recognizes that. But now we really should get to the truth of things...
MATTHEWS: OK...

FRANKS: ... and get back to the policies that really matter to the people.

MATTHEWS: Let‘s listen to Steny Hoyer, the Republican-excuse me-the Democratic leader. Here he is making his case for this resolution. Stay tuned, Congressman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MAJORITY LEADER: None of us-none of us-is happy to be here considering this resolution. I know I am not. At the same time, my colleagues, what is at issue here is of importance to this House and to our country. And that issue is whether we are able to proceed with the degree of civility and decorum that our rules and our democracy contemplate and require. The House code of conduct requires that each member, every one of us-each and every one of us-conduct himself, and I‘m quoting from the rule, "at all times in a manner in which shall reflect credibly on the House of Representatives."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Congressman Franks, I‘ve been on that floor as a staffer.

It‘s a hushed moment, as you know as a member...

FRANKS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... when the president is in joint session. It‘s very-almost a sacramental religious experience. You‘re totally in awe of the moment that you‘re lucky enough to share or been elected to share. Do you really think that that wasn‘t an offense against the House, for a member of the House to speak against a guest of the House in public on national television in the way that Mr. Wilson did? You say that‘s just an affront...

FRANKS: I think...

MATTHEWS: ... against the person of the president.

FRANKS: If that had been Joe‘s intent...

MATTHEWS: That was a House infraction.

FRANKS: I don‘t think there was any intent on Joe‘s part to do that. I think that he let his love for country-this is a man that had three sons in Iraq at the same time. He has given his life to the service of his country, and he let his passion get the best of him. He knows he was wrong. He did it the wrong way, and he apologized to the person that he affronted. And he apologized before the whole world. And I just don‘t know...

MATTHEWS: How did he do that?

FRANKS: ... how you beat up a guy like...

MATTHEWS: I guess I missed that. OK, look, I‘m with you on this. I mean, you‘re looking out for a colleague, Congressman. I completely respect the impulse you‘re...

FRANKS: Well, but I‘m also saying what I believe...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He did not-he called up Rahm Emanuel, the president‘s staffer, and said, I was told by the Republican leader to make this call. And then the next day, he told the press, I was told to make the call and I did. Excuse me. Do you call that-that‘s a high schooler‘s definition of an apology, My father told me to say I was sorry.

FRANKS: That‘s not how I read it at all. That‘s not how I read it at all.

MATTHEWS: Well, where did you hear the word...

FRANKS: It was a very contrite-it was a very contrite apology. The statement was very clear to everyone. He didn‘t say in any written statement or any statement that I heard about being told what to do, and I think that‘s probably what he‘s chafing against right now, being told...

MATTHEWS: He did say he was told by the leadership to make the call and he made the call. He did it in a formal way that means it had no, well, emotional or real content. And now you guys are saying he‘s apologized twice. I would like to hear the quotation on record somewhere of this apology because I don‘t think...

FRANKS: Well, it‘s there, Chris.

MATTHEWS: ... it‘s been personal. I think it‘s been formal.

FRANKS: It‘s there. It‘s there. And I have the advantage of knowing Joe Wilson, and I...

MATTHEWS: Well, you know Joe Wilson, but you don‘t have any record of him saying...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Has he ever said to you, I‘m sorry I said that?

FRANKS: Well, he hasn‘t said it to me, he said it to the president. He said it to-on record. The statement is on record. And I challenge you to go and look at that and read it to the people and see which one of us has a more accurate description of what Joe said.

MATTHEWS: Well, it was a comment made to the staffer of the president, not to the president. Let me ask you this...

FRANKS: Well, I don‘t know if...

MATTHEWS: What do you think about...

FRANKS: ... he had the cell phone of the president. You know, he called the White House. If the president would have taken the call, I‘m sure he would have been more than happy to speak directly to the president.

MATTHEWS: You know, I‘ve watched this for years and I-even when Harry Truman was down around 23 percent and was pretty much looked down on as president, I never heard anybody yell out personally to the president of the United States, You‘re a liar, in the House chamber.

FRANKS: Oh, listen, Bush lied...

MATTHEWS: I never heard anybody say that.

FRANKS: They attacked-listen, I‘ve been here about seven years now, and I never saw anybody called a liar more-more often than George Bush. And if you look back...

MATTHEWS: Where was that done?

FRANKS: ... those were things that-they may not have been during an address, but they booed him. If you‘re talking about keeping the decorum of the House, even the people that were applauding the president that night were breaking the rules. The fact is that Joe made a mistake. But I will tell you that this man‘s motivations and his heart are good and right for this country, and I wish we had about 434 more like him. I could go home and be with my babies.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, you‘re a good colleague. Thank you for coming on. Congressman Trent Lott...

FRANKS: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Not Trent Lott! Used to be a guy named Trent Lott! Trent Franks of Arizona, thanks.

FRANKS: Thank you, sir.

MATTHEWS: Please come back again as often as you can, sir.

FRANKS: Thank you, Chris.

 

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