An Interview With Congressman Joe Wilson

On Wednesday night Congressman Joe Wilson made big news when he shouted out, “You lie,” while Barack Obama was falsely claiming that illegal aliens aren’t going to be covered by the health care bills winding their way through Congress.

Last night I got an opportunity to interview him. What follows is the slightly edited transcript of our conversation:

To start things out, last night after you shouted out, “You lie,” and you apologized, what kind of reaction did you get from your fellow Republicans in Congress?

Well, I was very encouraged. I began the day, appropriately enough, at the prayer breakfast and so many people were just so thoughtful in their comments and support. Then from there, I went to a foreign affairs committee meeting, saw other colleagues; then we had votes. Person after person came up and they were very encouraging. So many of them, not all, but so many of them said that what I said is what they were thinking.

What prompted me is that during the August break we had town hall meetings. I have been having town hall meetings for 25 years with my service in the State Senate and Congress. I’ve been very pleased with about 50 people attending — but, at the town halls in August, we had the largest town halls in the history of South Carolina. We had 1700 people in Columbia, 1500 in Lexington, 1500 in Beaufort, 1200 in Hilton Head. The people were so knowledgeable and so concerned and at each one we had hecklers there. But, the vast majority, over 95%, want health insurance reform, not a government takeover of healthcare. So, as the President was going through the speech, when he got to the part about illegal aliens and he was saying they wouldn’t receive benefits, I knew better because I had been following the amendments of the Ways and Means Committee and also the Energy and Commerce Committee.

I serve on the other committee, Education and Labor, that has jurisdiction. I was looking at all of the amendments and I knew that the Democrats had defeated the enforcement amendments about illegal aliens and these would be the amendments that would provide for verification of citizenship. That’s the wording and I’ve actually read the 1,000 page bill. The references to the illegal aliens in the bill didn’t have any enforcement. It was simply fluff.

So in other words, they say illegal aliens aren’t covered at all in the bill all they want, but if they deliberately leave out any enforcement provisions, it doesn’t mean anything because they can still…

It doesn’t mean anything. The verification, as proposed by the Republican amendments, was defeated in committee. I knew that and so I just felt like what I was hearing was not accurate. …So I was just really appalled at this.

Then I found out later that the Congressional Resource Service, which is an independent arm of Congress, on August the 26th had a report issued on treatment of non-citizens in HR3200 and it makes it very clear that there are no restrictions.

Now I think you’re right about that, 100%. Are there any other parts of the healthcare bill you think the President or some of his supporters aren’t exactly being forthright about? Anything just pop to mind?

Well, I think he was portraying the rest in the best light as he could. I think it truly understates the cost. We’re talking about a trillion dollars of borrowing and spending and……we don’t have to look very far. Cash for Clunkers was underestimated by a factor of three.

I’m particularly concerned because I represent a district that has high unemployment and the Natural Federation of Independent Businesses said that the impact on small businesses would eliminate 1.6 million jobs. The President glossed over that and made it sound like it was friendly to small business when I know it’s not.

You apologized for what you said last night, but do you think the President owes an apology, not to you, but to all of the genuinely concerned people who have pointed out problems in the plan and have been continuously accused of lying about it as a result?

Well, I really just want to get through my apology and I do want to get civilly right on the issues because I know this: What they’re proposing is simply unworkable…so we can win this.

In fact, John, at one of the town halls, I was criticized by a heckler because I had never mentioned the President’s name. That’s normally the style that I have, that I don’t want to make things personal. I would say “President” or “administration,” but I do not make it personal and I do have respect for the office and the President.

OK, on Twitter, one thing — I asked people if they had any questions for you and the one thing conservatives all wanted to know is how the donations have been coming since last night?

We’ve received several thousand donations. Of course, we’ve also got a circumstance where my opponent with the benefit of MoveOn — they can raise much more money. So they are raising more money — but, I just appreciate the contributions I’ve received and I’ll not take any election for granted. I just concluded last week a 10-county bus tour. I really do, John, pride myself on being accountable and accessible.

Thank you very much, appreciate your time.

Well, thank you.

If you are so inclined, you can contribute to Joe Wilson’s campaign here.

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