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Obama shrugs off political 'circus' over healthcare

His proposal will still pass, he says, dismissing Joe Wilson's 'You lied' and the ensuing uproar as a distract. The heckler, meanwhile, says one apology was plenty.

September 14, 2009|Noam N. Levey

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Sunday dismissed the uproar over Rep. Joe Wilson's heckling during the president's speech Wednesday to a joint session of Congress, suggesting it was only a distraction -- even as some members of Obama's party threatened to punish the South Carolina Republican.

"This is part of what happens. I mean, it becomes a big circus instead of us focusing on healthcare," Obama said in an interview on the CBS news program "60 Minutes."

Obama noted that Wilson later apologized, which "I appreciated."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and other senior Democrats in the chamber indicated last week that unless Wilson went to the House floor to apologize, they would advance a resolution admonishing Wilson for shouting "You lie" during Obama's address.

Wilson's outburst, which outraged many Democrats and embarrassed some Republicans, has helped galvanize many of the president's supporters as well as some of his fiercest opponents.

Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Wilson said he would not issue any more apologies for what he said his son had called a "town hall moment" -- referring to the raucous demonstrations mounted over the summer by critics of the president's healthcare agenda.

"I've apologized one time," Wilson said Sunday. "The apology was accepted by the president, by the vice president, who I know. I am not apologizing again."

Asked about the controversy, Obama bemoaned what he called "a coarsening of our political dialogue."

"I will also say that in the era of 24-hour cable news cycles, that the loudest, shrillest voices get the most attention," he said.

Obama nonetheless expressed confidence that his healthcare campaign would not be derailed by the opposition.

"I believe that we will have enough votes to pass not just any healthcare bill, but a good healthcare bill," he said.

He continued: "In terms of the Democratic Party . . . they all understand we have to make this happen.

"We're not going to get a better opportunity to solve our healthcare issues than we have right now."

Several key Senate Democrats also expressed optimism Sunday about the chances for advancing a bill, including Louisiana Sen. Mary L. Landrieu and North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, who is working on a centrist bill that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) plans to introduce this week.

It is still unclear, however, if that legislation will attract more than one or two Republicans.

On Sunday, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican who often works with Democrats, said she would not support one key concept being floated as a possible compromise: a "trigger" for creating a new government insurance program if evidence showed that private insurers were not providing affordable options to consumers.

"The problem with the trigger is it just delays the public option," Collins said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Most Republicans worry that a new government plan would ultimately drive private insurers out of business.

Many Democrats say it would provide consumers with another choice while pressuring private carriers to bring down their costs.

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noam.levey@latimes.com

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