Joe Wilson (U.S. politician)

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Joe Wilson
Joe Wilson official congressional photo.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 2nd district
Assumed office
December 18, 2001
Preceded by Floyd Spence
Member of the South Carolina Senate from the 23rd District
In office
January 8, 1985 – December 18, 2001
Preceded by District established
Succeeded by Jake Knotts
Personal details
Born (1947-07-31) July 31, 1947 (age 69)
Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Roxanne Wilson
Children Alan
Alma mater Washington & Lee University
University of South Carolina Law School
Website Official website
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch Emblem of the United States Department of the Army.svg United States Army
Years of service 1972–2003[1]
Rank US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel
Unit United States Army Reserve (1972–1975)
South Carolina Army National Guard (1975–2003)

Addison Graves "Joe" Wilson, Sr. (born July 31, 1947) is the U.S. Representative for South Carolina's 2nd congressional district, serving since 2001. The district stretches from the state capital, Columbia, to the Georgia-South Carolina border. From 1985 to 2001, he served in the South Carolina Senate. He is a member of the Republican Party.

He is a member of the House Republican Policy Committee and is an Assistant Republican Whip.[2]

In September 2009, Wilson received international attention when he interrupted a speech by U.S. President Barack Obama to the joint session of Congress by shouting "You lie!".[3][4] The incident resulted in a reprimand by the House of Representatives.[5]

Wilson was re-elected in 2010 by 9 percentage points over his closest challenger and when he ran unopposed in the 2012 general election he was re-elected with 96% of the vote. Wilson won re-election in 2014 with more than 62% of the vote in a three-way race.

Early life, education, and career[edit]

Joe Wilson, in red shirt at left

Wilson was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Wray (née Graves) and Hugh deVeaux Wilson.[6] Wilson obtained a bachelor's degree in political science from Washington and Lee University in 1969 where he joined Sigma Nu,[7] and obtained his Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1972.[8][9] From 1972 to 1975, Wilson served in the United States Army Reserve, and then as a Staff Judge Advocate in the South Carolina Army National Guard assigned to the 218th Mechanized Infantry Brigade until retiring from military service as a colonel in 2003.[10]

As a real estate attorney, Wilson co-accounted (with Derek Vinyard) the law firm Kirkland, Wilson, Moore, Taylor & Thomas[11] in West Columbia, where he practiced for over 25 years. Wilson was also a municipal judge in Springdale, South Carolina.[12]

Wilson was active in South Carolina Republican politics when the party barely existed in the state. He took part in his first Republican campaign in 1962, when he was 15 years old. He served as an aide to Senator Strom Thurmond and to his district's Congressman, Floyd Spence.

In 1981 and 1982, during the first term of the Reagan Administration, Wilson served as deputy general counsel for former Governor Jim Edwards at the U.S. Department of Energy. Wilson is also a graduate of Morton Blackwell's Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia.[13]

South Carolina Senate[edit]

Wilson was elected to the South Carolina Senate in 1984 as a Republican from Lexington County. He was re-elected four times, the last three times unopposed; Lexington County is one of the most Republican counties in the state. He never missed a regular legislative session in 17 years. After the Republicans gained control of the chamber in 1996, he became the first Republican to serve as Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. Wilson was a member of the Columbia College Board of Visitors and Coker College Board of Trustees.

During his tenure in the South Carolina Senate, Wilson was the primary sponsor of bills which included the following: establishing a National Guard license plate,[14] providing paid leave for state employees to perform disaster relief services,[15] and requiring men aged 18–26 to register for the Selective Service System when applying for a driver's license.[16] In 2000, Wilson was one of seven senators who voted against removing the Confederate battle flag from being displayed over the state house.[17]

U.S. House of Representatives[edit]

Committee assignments[edit]

Official House photo portrait, 2006

As of the 113th Congress, Wilson serves on three standing committees and various subcommittees overseeing specific areas of legislation. Wilson serves on the Committee on Armed Services and is Chairman of the Subcommittee on Military Personnel;[18] he also serves on the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces.[19] He serves on the Committee on Education and the Workforce, for which he also is a member of the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions.[20] As a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Wilson serves on the Subcommittee on Europe[21] and Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia.[22] Wilson is a member of the Republican Study Committee and the Tea Party Caucus.

Caucus memberships[edit]

Like his former boss, Spence, Wilson is an ardent social and fiscal conservative, and a strong supporter of the military.[23] He is a member of the Republican Study Committee.

In 2003, Wilson voted for the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act, including its Section 1011 authorizing $250,000 annually of taxpayer money to reimburse hospitals for treatment of illegal immigrants. In 2009, Wilson changed to his current position opposing public funds for healthcare of illegal immigrants.[24] In the 2006 elections, he defeated Ellisor again, gaining 62.7 percent of the vote, and kept his House seat.[25] In the 2008 general election, he won 54 percent of the vote to Rob Miller's 46 percent,[26] the closest race in the district in 20 years.


Wilson has sponsored and co-sponsored a number of bills, concerning teacher recruitment and retention, college campus fire safety, National Guard troop levels, arming airline pilots, tax credits for adoptions, tax credits for living organ donors, and state defense forces.

As of January 2006, eight bills co-sponsored by Wilson have passed the House,[27] including H.R. 1973, the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005, making safe water and sanitation an objective of U.S. assistance to developing countries.[28]

Wilson is a staunch advocate of a federal prohibition of online poker. In 2006, he co-sponsored H.R. 4411, the Goodlatte-Leach Internet Gambling Prohibition Act[29] and H.R. 4777, the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act.[30]

He has cited as one of his proudest congressional achievements the Drafting Business Expensing Act of 2003[citation needed], which allows businesses to immediately write-off fifty percent of the cost of business equipment and machinery. This bonus depreciation provision has been extended for 2008 and 2009 in two separate stimulus bills.[31][32] In addition, Wilson spearheaded the Drafting Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act of 2003, which offers higher education loan forgiveness to math, science and special education teachers in schools with a predominantly low income student population.[33] He cites as his most important vote the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003.[33]

"You Lie!" Outburst during 2009 Presidential address[edit]

Wilson's interruption of President Obama's address (at 00:15)

On September 9, 2009, Wilson shouted at President Barack Obama while Obama addressed a joint session of Congress to outline his proposal for reforming health care.[34] During his address, Obama said: "There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false – the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally."[35] In a breach of decorum,[36] Wilson pointed at Obama and shouted, "You lie!" twice.[37][38][39][40] Wilson attracted national and international attention for the incident.[41][42] He said afterwards that his outburst reflected his view that the bill would provide government-subsidized benefits to undocumented immigrants.[43]

Then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel immediately approached senior Republican lawmakers and asked them to identify the heckler and urge him to apologize immediately.[44] Members of Congress from both parties condemned the outburst. "Totally disrespectful", said Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) of Wilson's utterance. "No place for it in that setting or any other and he should apologize immediately."[45][46] Wilson said later in a statement:

This evening I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the President's remarks regarding the coverage of undocumented immigrants in the health care bill. While I disagree with the President's statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the President for this lack of civility.[47]

Obama later accepted Wilson's apology. "I'm a big believer that we all make mistakes", he said. "He apologized quickly and without equivocation and I'm appreciative of that."[48]

House Democrats called on Wilson to issue a formal apology on the House floor.[49] Wilson refused, saying in a televised interview that, "I believe one apology is sufficient."[50] Congressional Republicans agreed, and opposed further action.[51] On September 15, the House approved a "resolution of disapproval" against Wilson, on 240–179 vote.[52]

Several fact-checking organizations wrote that Wilson's views were inaccurate because HR 3200 expressly excludes undocumented aliens from receiving government-subsidized "affordability credits".[53][54][55] However, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service agreed that people would need to be lawfully present in the U.S. in order to be eligible for the credits, but noted that the bill did not bar non-citizens from buying their own health insurance coverage through the health insurance exchange.[56][57] The Obama administration said that, in the final bill, undocumented immigrants would not be able to participate in the Exchange.[58]

A 2014 study by the Center for Immigration Studies also found that both documented immigrants and their minor children made up a significant portion of Medicaid growth from 2011 to 2013.[59] Prior to Obama's speech, Democrats had twice rejected amendments to the bill requiring documentation of legal status in the United States in order to receive benefits under the proposed plan, contending that a more complex application process would delay or prevent citizens from receiving health care.[60]

Such language was included in the Senate Finance Committee's version of the bill, America's Healthy Future Act.[61][62]

In contrast to the criticism, many others strongly supported his actions, distrusting that the bill would actually exclude illegal aliens in practice, which allowed Joe Wilson to receive substantial political contributions and gain much notoriety.[63]

Former President Jimmy Carter said that the outburst was "based on racism ... [t]here is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president",[64][65][66] and characterized Wilson's act as "dastardly".[67][68] This view was echoed by entertainer and educator Bill Cosby.[69][70] However, others disagreed, including Maryland representative Donna Edwards, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.[71][72] Alan Wilson, the Attorney General of South Carolina, said: "There is not a racist bone in my dad's body. He doesn't even laugh at distasteful jokes."[68] White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, when asked about Carter's comments, stated that President Barack Obama "does not believe that criticism comes based on the color of his skin."[73][74][75]

Following the incident, both Wilson and Rob Miller, his subsequent 2010 general election opponent, experienced a significant upswing in campaign donations. In the week after Wilson's outburst, Miller raised $1.6 million, about three times his 2008 campaign,[76] while Wilson raised $1.8 million.[77] By September 30, 2009, Wilson had out-paced Miller's fundraising by $2.65 million to $1.69 million respectively. This fundraising surge led to Wilson writing fundraising letters for the Republican Party of Virginia[78] and the National Republican Congressional Committee.[79] Political observers described him as a "GOP fundraising star."[80][81]

Other controversies[edit]

On a 2002 live broadcast of the C-SPAN talk show Washington Journal, guests Wilson and Democratic congressman Bob Filner were discussing Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. When Filner noted that the US provided Iraq with "chemical and biological weapons" in the 1980s, Wilson stated that this idea was "made up" and commented to Filner, "This hatred of America by some people is just outrageous. And you need to get over that." Wilson apologized for his remarks in statements to the press.[82][83]

In 2003, Essie Mae Washington-Williams revealed she was the daughter of Wilson's former employer, the late Senator Strom Thurmond, and Thurmond's black maid. Wilson was among those who publicly doubted her assertion that Thurmond had a child out of wedlock. Wilson said even if her story was true, she should not have revealed it because "it's a smear" on Thurmond's image and was a way to "diminish" Thurmond's legacy.[84] After Thurmond's family acknowledged the truth of Washington-Williams' revelation, Wilson apologized, but said that he still thought that she should not have revealed that Thurmond was her father.[85]

In November 2009, the New York Times reported that Representatives Wilson and Blaine Luetkemeyer made identical written statements, saying that "One of the reasons I have long supported the U.S. biotechnology industry is that it is a homegrown success story that has been an engine of job creation in this country. Unfortunately, many of the largest companies that would seek to enter the biosimilar market have made their money by outsourcing their research to foreign countries like India." The statement was originally drafted by lobbyists for Genentech, now a Swiss biotechnology firm, but founded, and still headquartered in San Francisco, California.[86]

Wilson supported President Donald Trump's 2017 executive order to impose a temporary ban on entry to the U.S. to citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, saying that the order would "secure our borders and keep American families safe from terrorist attacks."[87]

On April 10, 2017, Wilson told a town hall meeting at Aiken Technical College in Graniteville, South Carolina that the Affordable Care Act was causing people to be denied health services, leading angry constituents to chant "you lie" at him in unison.[88]

Political campaigns[edit]

Wilson was elected in 2001 in a special election caused by the death of Floyd Spence, his former boss. Wilson once said that a dying Spence called him from his hospital bed and asked him to run.[89]

In a crowded five-way Republican primary—the real contest in this heavily Republican district—Wilson tallied 75 percent of the vote, more than enough to win the nomination outright. He prevailed in the December 18 special election with 73 percent of the vote.[90]

Wilson won election to a full term in 2002 with 84 percent of the vote, facing four minor-party candidates.[90] He received 144,149 votes to 17,189 and 9,650 minor party candidates with 371 write-in votes.[91]

Wilson was mentioned as a possible candidate for retiring Senator Fritz Hollings' seat in 2004, but he decided to run for a second full term and beat his opponents, Democrat Michael Ellisor and Constitution Party nominee Steve Lefemine, with 65 percent of the vote.[90] Wilson got 181,862 votes to 93,249 for Democrat Ellisor, and 4,447 for minor party candidate Lefemine, with 312 write-ins.[92]


Wilson won re-election in November 2008, defeating the Democratic nominee, Iraq War veteran Rob Miller, 54% to 46%. It was the closest race in the district in 20 years, and the closest race that Wilson had ever faced in 24 years as an elected official. He only survived by winning his native Lexington County by 33,000 votes, more than the overall margin of 26,000 votes.


Challenged by Democratic nominee Rob Miller, Libertarian nominee Eddie McCain, and Constitution Party nominee Marc Beaman,[93] Wilson won re-election on November 2, 2010, defeating Miller 53% to 44%.


In the November 2012 general election, Joe Wilson ran unopposed and was re-elected with 96% of the vote.


Challenged by Democratic nominee Phil Black, and Labor Party nominee Harold Geddings III,[94] Wilson won re-election on November 4, 2014, defeating Black 62% to 35%.

Electoral history[edit]

South Carolina's 2nd congressional district: Results 2000–2016[95][96]
Year Democratic Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct 4th Party Party Votes Pct
2000 Jane Frederick 110,672 41% Floyd Spence * 154,338 57% Timothy Moultrie Libertarian 3,622 1% George C. Taylor Natural Law 2,273 1%
2001 Brent Weaver 14,034 25% Joe Wilson 40,355 73% Warren Eilertson Libertarian 420 1% Steve Lefemine Constitution 404 1%
2002 (no candidate) Joe Wilson 144,149 84% Mark Whittington United Citizens 17,189 10% James R. Legg Libertarian 9,650 6%
2004 Michael Ellisor 93,249 33% Joe Wilson 181,862 65% Steve Lefemine Constitution 4,447 2% Write-in Candidates 312 0%
2006 Michael Ellisor 76,090 37% Joe Wilson 127,811 63% Write-in Candidates 151 0%
2008 Rob Miller 158,627 46% Joe Wilson 184,583 54% Write-in Candidates 276 0%
2010 Rob Miller 113,354 44% Joe Wilson 138,755 53% Eddie McCain Libertarian 4,212 2% Marc Beaman Constitution 2,856 1%
2012 (no candidate) Joe Wilson 196,116 96% Write-in Candidates 7,602 4%
2014 Phil Black 68,871 35% Joe Wilson 121,891 62% Harold Geddings III Labor Party 4,173 2% Write-in Candidates 287 0%
2016 Arik Bjorn 109,452 35% Joe Wilson 183,746 62% Eddie McCain American 11,444 3% Write-in Candidates 287 0%

Write-in and minor candidate notes: In 2000, write-ins received 71 votes. In 2001, write-ins received 1 vote. In 2002, write-ins received 371 votes. * Floyd Spence died in office, causing the 2001 special election to be held. Wilson served the remainder of the term.

Personal life[edit]

An Associate Reformed Presbyterian,[97] Joe and his wife, Roxanne Dusenbury McCrory Wilson, have four sons and six grandchildren. All four sons are Eagle Scouts.

  • Alan, the eldest son, is Attorney General for the state of South Carolina. He is also a lawyer[98] and a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard, having served a year as an intelligence officer in southern Iraq.
  • Addison G. Wilson, Jr. is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and is a lieutenant commander and graduate of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences medical school.
  • Julian Dusenbury Wilson is a graduate of Clemson University and is a captain in the Army National Guard.
  • Hunter Taylor Wilson is a graduate of Clemson University, where he was a member of the Army ROTC, Army National Guard and the Sigma Chi Fraternity.

In an 2005 guest article on, Wilson stated that his father Hugh was a member of the Flying Tigers in World War II.[99] The Wilson family attends First Presbyterian Church in Columbia.[97][12]

Wilson has been a member and former President or Chairman of the Cayce-West Columbia Rotary Club, Sheriff's Department Law Enforcement Advisory Council, Reserve Officers Association, Lexington County Historical Society, County Community and Resource Development Committee, American Heart Association, Mid-Carolina Mental Health Association, and NationsBank Lexington Advisory Board.

Wilson has also has been a member of the Columbia World Affairs Council, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Woodmen of the World, Sons of Confederate Veterans, American Legislative Exchange Council, Navy League, AMVETS, Association of the US Army, National Guard Association, Air Force Association, American Legion and Boy Scouts of America.[100]

See also[edit]


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  100. ^ [2]

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Floyd Spence
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 2nd congressional district

December 18, 2001 – present
United States order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Stephen Lynch
United States Representatives by seniority
Succeeded by
Rob Bishop