Less than an hour into Biden’s speech before members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, it all turned into a screaming match after POTUS accused some Republicans of wanting “Medicare and Social Security to sunset.” To a cascade of boos, and as the government faces a potential debt default, the Democrat added: ”I’m not saying it’s a majority. Anybody who doubts it, contact my office — I’ll give you a copy of the proposal.”
At that point, with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) screaming “liar” at the president from the rear of the chamber, the annual remarks from the chief executive appeared to devolve into chaos and insults, once again. “I’m politely not naming them, but it is being proposed by some of you,” the brazenly combative Biden added as Vice President Kamala Harris and a head shaking GOP Speaker Kevin McCarthy sat behind him.
During last year’s midterms, Rick Scott, Florida’s junior Senator and GOP Senate campaign chairman, floated the notion of enshrining a vote every five years on almost all federal programs, including Social Security and Medicare.
While rejected by the likes of GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell, the plan became a ball and chain for Republicans, who underperformed dramatically in the off-year election. Cited frequently by Biden, Harris and other Democrats throughout the final stretch of the midterms, the sunset proposal and the anxiety it provokes among many older Americans gave POTUS a near perfect political rope-a-dope to put Republicans on the defensive Tuesday — and they delivered.
However, with the Republicans outburst, Biden also was blessed by his enemies, once again.
With reports that McCarthy, who needed 15 ballots in the House to clinch his job amidst a wafer-thin GOP majority, had chastised his fellow Republicans to be on their best behavior tonight, the yelling and taunts allowed Biden to turn the exchange to his advantage. The affront to POTUS put the GOP’s unspoken aims into the televised spotlight with millions of Americans tuning in on cable and broadcast TV and online.
Going off his prepared remarks and openly engaging with the critics in front of him, Biden chided the Republicans and flipped their script. “As we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now,” POTUS gleefully said after Republicans bellowed “you lie, you lie” and shook their heads. “We got unanimity.”
McCarthy could repeatedly be seen trying to get his caucus members to quiet down — to little success.
“If anyone tries to cut Social Security, which apparently no one is going to do, and if anyone tries to cut Medicare, I will stop them,” Biden said, with a swipe at GOP budget schemes.
Speaker McCarthy may had spent the majority of tonight’s SOTU in his seat, but he knew with the cameras on him and Biden’s allegations on the table, he couldn’t keep it up.
“Let’s stand up for seniors,” Biden added, as McCarthy, MTG and many Republicans got to their feet in a bipartisan display. “Apparently, it’s not going to be a problem,” the re-election-seeking POTUS went on to say with a winning smile on his face — at least this round.
Of course, this being the deeply divided government it is, with the MAGA-dominated GOP in charge in the House and Democrats ruling the White House and Senate, there were more verbal flare-ups in the hour-plus speech when Biden mentioned the the topics of abortion rights and the fatal scourge of the synthetic opioid Fentanyl.
In what was once a fairly gentile affair, the SOTU began to turn ugly more than a decade ago and never looked back.
In 2009, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) hurled a “you lie!” at President Barack Obama when the 44th POTUS insisted that his then-proposed health care plan wouldn’t cover undocumented immigrants. Although Wilson apologized and was censured, since then the annual address to Congress and the American people has seen opposition parties heckle Obama, Donald Trump and Biden. During last year’s SOTU, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), who was shaking her head tonight over Biden’s budget-battle remarks, screamed at POTUS over American soldiers who had died on his watch at that point. Boebert and Taylor Greene later chanted ““build the wall!” as Biden talked about his immigration proposals.
That night Biden didn’t seem to enjoy the disparagement as much as he obviously did tonight — but back in 2021 he hadn’t obviously laid out the bait and the GOP members didn’t take it.