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Joe Wilson Admonished in House Resolution

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Updated 6:32 p.m. ET

After nearly an hour of contentious debate, the House of Representatives passed a resolution of disapproval criticizing South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson for shouting out "you lie!" in the middle of President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress last week.

The largely party-line vote was 240 in favor to 179 opposed. Twelve Democrats opposed the measure, and five others voted "present." Seven Republicans backed it.

The resolution (PDF) called the outburst "a breach of decorum [that] degraded the proceedings of the joint session, to the discredit of the House."

"Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the House of Representatives disapproves of the behavior of the Representative from South Carolina, Mr. Wilson," it read.

During the debate preceding the vote, Wilson complained that "there are far more important issues facing this nation than we are addressing right now." He said that the president had accepted his apology and that "the issue is over," standing by his promise not to offer a second apology to his fellow members.

Wilson's Republican colleagues suggested that Democrats were playing politics and trying to distract Americans from the health care bill. They also suggested the debate and vote was a waste of time.

The resolution reflects a "partisan stunt that the American people are not going to respect," House Republican leader John Boehner said. He called the resolution "wrong" and suggested Democrats were on a "witch hunt."

"There's been behavior that's gone on around here that's been far more serious than this, that didn't bring a resolution to the floor," he complained, suggesting "we could be doing this every day of the week."

But Democrats, lead by House Majority Whip James Clyburn, said the resolution isn't about politics but instead about "the rules of this House and reprehensible conduct." Clyburn criticized Wilson, with whom he has an acrimonious relationship, for not apologizing to his colleagues on the House floor.

"This hall is the most prominent classroom in this great country, and all of us our teachers," he said. "We are bound by duty and the offices we hold to conduct ourselves as such."

"This is not a partisan stunt," he added. "I do not participate in partisan stunts."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer suggested that the resolution would not have been brought forward had Wilson apologized to his colleagues.

"At issue is whether we are able to proceed with a degree of civility and decorum that our rules and our democracy contemplate and require," he said.

The Office of the House Historian said the resolution marked the first time in House history such an action had been taken against a member for comments during a presidential address, the Associated Press reported.

In an interview with CBS News before the vote, Wilson briefly broke down, saying he appreciates the American people and his family.

Wilson shouted "you lie" after the president said last week that his proposed health care reform bill would not make federal subsidies available to illegal immigrants. He quickly apologized to the White House after being told to do so by Republican leaders.

House guidelines dictate that members can attack the president's policies but not use "personally offensive criticism" against him.

A House member can say a president's position is a "disgrace to the country" or that members of his administration are "half-baked nitwits," according to the guidelines. But he or she can't call the president a "liar" or a "hypocrite."

There have been 22 censures in House history, the last in 1983. There have also been eight reprimands, most recently involving Newt Gingrich in 1997, and five expulsions, the most recent being Jim Traficant in 2002.

A resolution of disapproval is the weakest form of punishment used in the House. There is no specific penalty for Wilson spelled out in the measure.

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Watch the outburst.

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