Republicans repeatedly interrupt Biden during State of the Union address
(CNN) — Republicans repeatedly heckled President Joe Biden during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, ignoring the occasional shushes from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
In moments throughout the address, Republicans in the House chamber shouted at Biden, protesting his approach to a wide range of issues such as immigration, Social Security and Medicare spending and the debt ceiling.
Biden at one point managed to quickly turn heckles in the chamber into a standing ovation from most Republicans, including McCarthy, when he was discussing the debt ceiling and the national debt, along with spending on Social Security and Medicare.
“Those are the facts, check it out,” Biden said, as boos and chatter started in the chamber. “Check it out!” he continued over the ruckus.
“How did Congress respond to all that debt?” Biden asked. “They did the right thing, they lifted the debt ceiling three times without preconditions or crisis.”
Democrats cheered while Republicans remained quiet. But when the president accused some Republicans of wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare, protests erupted again.
“Some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage unless I agree to their economic plans. All of you at home should know what their plans are,” Biden said. “Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset every five years.”
Biden had to raise his voice over loud boos, saying, “Anybody who doubts it, call my office, I’ll give you a copy of the proposal.” He was likely referring to a proposal from GOP Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, last year’s chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which called for all federal legislation to be renewed every five years.
The White House has repeatedly accused Republicans of wanting to make cuts to Social Security and Medicare, but McCarthy explicitly said recently that those cuts were off the table.
The president said he was “glad to see” the reaction from the booing and jeering Republicans, adding, “I enjoy conversion.”
McCarthy shook his head and appeared to shush his members.
The president continued, saying he wasn’t going to “be moved into being threatened to default on the debt if we don’t respond.”
“Folks — as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right? They’re not to be touched,” he said, to what turned into claps. “We’ve got unanimity!”
White House officials relished in the off-script, back-and-forth moment, saying that Biden has long fed off the energy of engaging with his audience.
Staff watching in various offices in the West Wing cheered and high-fived at the moment, especially the way the president leaned into Republicans’ response. When the president returned to the White House, staff gathered in the Diplomatic Room to receive him. They applauded as he walked in and Biden spoke about how strongly he feels about reasons to be optimistic about the country.
Biden then recognized departing chief of staff Ron Klain, whose last day is Wednesday. Klain spoke briefly, saying not only was the speech strong on the whole but the president made everyone incredibly proud in the back-and-forth with Republicans over Medicare and Social Security.
Klain called the back-and-forth an “all-time great State of the Union moment that people would look back on for years.” That got a big ovation as well.
Virginia GOP Rep. Bob Good told CNN that he was one of the hecklers who called Biden a “liar,” saying the president deserved it for his comments about Republicans saying they want cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene repeatedly yelled back at Biden throughout the speech — responding to everything from his comments on fentanyl to entitlement cuts. She also yelled out “liar” when Biden brought up the proposed cuts to Medicare and Social Security. And she stayed seated when Biden introduced the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States and the family of Tyre Nichols.
Tennessee GOP Rep. Andy Ogles, who shouted “it’s your fault” when Biden brought up fentanyl overdose deaths, defended his shouting.
“For him to stand there with a straight face, and tell us that he has a solution, when with a stroke of a pen he could have shut down the border … that offends me,” Ogles said, linking overdose deaths to drug trafficking at the US border with Mexico. “He has not done a damn thing about it.”
After Tuesday night’s address, McCarthy wouldn’t comment to CNN when asked about the heckling. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise wouldn’t criticize his members, instead calling on the president to stop his rhetoric about a GOP push to cut entitlements.
West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin strongly criticized the representatives who heckled Biden, saying it was “awful childish,” “distasteful” and adding that it “might be acceptable in a third world country.” Democratic Whip Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois called it “really unbefitting.”
Heckles from the opposing political party during presidential addresses in the chamber have become more prevalent in recent years.
When South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson shouted, “You lie!” during then-President Barack Obama’s health care speech in 2009, he was swiftly condemned by members of his party. He later apologized.
Other symbols of objection have taken place in front of the chamber’s cameras as well.
Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for example, tore up a copy of then-President Donald Trump’s 2020 State of the Union address when he wrapped up his remarks.