- Tuesday’s State of the Union address was an at times raucous affair.
- Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene shouted down Joe Biden, including calling the president a liar.
- Biden also appeared to enjoy the verbal jousting, leading to an unprecedented back and forth.
President Joe Biden is famous for saying that the Republican Party is “not your father’s GOP.” Tuesday night showed that this is no longer your father’s State of the Union address.
It was a multi-day scandal when Republican Rep. Joe Wilson shouted, “You lie” at President Barack Obama in 2009. The House later formally reprimanded him for the outburst. It appears almost quaint now.
Biden spent much of his Tuesday night national address touting all of the bipartisan laws he signed last year. But many of the seasoned dealmakers who made those deals possible are gone. In their place, lawmakers such as the far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene are not just resurgent but dominant.
Parts of Biden’s second State of the Union resembled the United Kingdom’s raucous “Prime Minister’s Questions” sessions that C-SPAN nerds delight in. The State of the Union is not supposed to resemble the real-time grilling of a world leader though.
“Liar,” Greene shouted at Biden. “You lie!”
—CSPAN (@cspan) February 8, 2023
Greene was fired up over Biden’s implication that Republican Sen. Rick Scott’s plan that would jeopardize the future of Medicare and Social Security was indicative of some larger point about a subsection of the GOP.
To be clear, opposition party members have long trolled the president during the State of the Union. Democrats booed President Donald Trump during his addresses. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi even ripped up one of Trump’s speeches. But this time was notable in that Biden didn’t ignore the guffaws, the president seemed to delight in the verbal jousting.
“Anybody who doubts it, contact my office,” Biden said of Scott’s proposal. “I’ll give you a copy of the proposal.”
When mentioning the GOP’s efforts to repeal Democrats’ sweeping climate and health care law, Biden added some ribbing.
“As my football coach used to say, lots of luck in your senior year!” the president added of efforts to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act.
It did appear that, at times, even Biden was unsure what to make of the unfolding scene. On Social Security and Medicare, however, the president delighted in getting Republicans to agree with him. (To be fair, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said on Monday that the GOP would not propose cuts to the possible programs. Other members of his conference disagreed.)
“As we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right?” Biden said. “Alright, we’ve got unanimity.” The president also added, “I enjoy some conversion.”
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy had warned Republicans to be on their best behavior during the speech, boasting that his party would not resort to childish tactics. If it wasn’t apparent during the speakership race, McCarthy clearly lacks control of a sizable portion of his conference. At times during the speech, the No. 2 person in line for the presidency appeared to try to shush lawmakers, as if he was a teacher who could sense that the class was growing too rowdy.
The night began on such a different note.
The beginning of Biden’s address didn’t hint at what was to come. The president kicked off his speech by congratulating McCarthy on his new job and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on his long tenure in charge of Senate Republicans. Biden then ticked off the long list of the more than 300 bipartisan bills he signed into law.
“To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together in this new Congress,” Biden said early on.
The reality, as Biden himself knows, is that some of that group is gone.
Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, took a lead role in negotiating Biden’s infrastructure law, among other measures. Portman retired and was replaced by JD Vance, a conservative who needed Trump’s endorsement to win a contested primary. Politico previously identified five other major dealmakers who are gone. Many had spent decades in politics, mastering both the inner workings of Congress and the art of compromise.
Senate Republicans are also stuck in the minority. And while McCarthy’s House Republicans are now in the majority, to win the Speaker’s gavel McCarthy had to make significant concessions to some of the chamber’s most conservative members. He also brought Greene into the fold, accelerating her attempt at remaking herself from a firebrand to a leadership ally.
“So we called him out on the House floor,” Greene said in a video posted after the speech. “I called him a liar because that’s what he is.”
The truth is that few expect a divided Washington to accomplish any major legislation over the coming year. But there are some things that lawmakers must do, such as raising the debt ceiling later this summer.
The White House has warned that it won’t negotiate over raising the limit, which ensures that the US pays its outstanding bills. Biden added on Tuesday that he wouldn’t let Republicans hold the economy “hostage” over the topic.
Soon after, the contentious “liar” exchange unfolded, an ominous warning about the state of the new Congress on a topic of utmost importance.
Divided government is clearly here. In the future, the stakes won’t be the optics of a speech — it will be over a potential calamity for the global economy.