Last weekend Donald Trump gave a speech in South Carolina where he announced his state leadership team. Among them was Republican Congressman Joe Wilson, whom he introduced by saying:
A friend of mine --- that voice, that voice was so beautiful as he called it out in Congress, Congressman Joe Wilson. That was done from the heart, that was --- I don't know if you know or not but at the time people loved you for that because it showed honesty, dedication and the love of your country, right?
He was referring to Wilson's notorious outburst at the 2009 State of the Union address in which he shouted "you lie" at Barack Obama when the former president denied that his health care plan would cover undocumented immigrants. (It was not a lie.) The pundits all called for the smelling salts and Wilson was later reprimanded by Congress and subsequently issued an apology. At the time, it was a shocking breach of decorum that stunned the nation.
Fourteen years later, Republican Marjorie Taylor Green told Wilson to hold her beer and went on a screaming tirade during President Joe Biden's State of the Union. And the Georgia representative was not alone in repeatedly screaming "liar" and "you lie" during Biden's address last night. Many of the Republican House members behaved like they were at a WWE wrestling match instead of a joint session of Congress. They simply ignored previous admonitions from narrowly-elected Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who also pursed his lips and mouthed "not true" from the dais, even as he tried to shush his members as they grew increasingly obnoxious.
This is par for the course in the "extreme ultra-MAGA" GOP (a phrase McCarthy asked Biden not to use in his speech because it apparently hurts the feelings of the sensitive extreme ultra-MAGAs.) After all, their Dear Leader told Joe Wilson just a week ago that calling the president a liar in the State of the Union is a patriotic act so, of course, they were going to do it.
Many of the Republican House members behaved like they were at a WWE wrestling match instead of a joint session of Congress.
The Republicans heckled and booed Biden over a number of issues but they completely lost their minds when Biden suggested they were planning to cut Social Security and Medicare. How dare he suggest we would ever do such a monstrous thing!
President Biden: "Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset. I'm not saying it's the majority."— CSPAN (@cspan) February 8, 2023
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene: "Liar!" pic.twitter.com/OFUglFuBxC
Wherever did Biden get this idea do you think?
Rep. Michael Waltz on the possibility of military spending cuts: "I agree with Jim Jordan that we are going to carve out woke policies out of the military ... [but] if we really want to talk about the debt and spending, it's the entitlements program." pic.twitter.com/5Nhv5fel0i— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 9, 2023
The Republican Study Committee, a powerful group of right-wing policymakers in the House, proposed a budget last summer that, you guessed it, raised the Social Security retirement age and lowered benefits. Meanwhile, the chair of the Senate Campaign Committee for the 2022 election, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fl., put out an agenda for Senate candidates to run on that included a draconian provision to have all government spending sunset every five years. None other than Mitch McConnell, now Senate minority leader, repudiated this plan confirming that Scott was proposing that Social Security and Medicare would be on the chopping block. Sen Ron Johnson, R. Wis., said during his campaign that Social Security "was set up improperly" and that it would have been better to invest the money in the stock market. He then went even further than Scott, floating the idea of turning Social Security and Medicare into annual "discretionary" spending items. Imagine having to rely on Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, to decide whether to fund your retirement or pay your hospital bills every year.
Biden couldn't have handled the fracas any better if he'd planned it.
Republicans also recently floated the idea of setting up a commission to study increasing the eligibility age or adding means-testing to federal programs. Just the other day, Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Ok., chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said "I wouldn't think it'd be off the table."
Hannity: Not a single Republican has ever said they want to take away your Social Security..— Acyn (@Acyn) November 3, 2022
Mike Lee: It will be my objective to phase out Social Security. To pull it up by the roots and get rid of it. pic.twitter.com/j0EQOyKM2q
As I noted a while back, Republicans have been trying to cut these programs from the day they were enacted, always under the rationale that it's "socialism," a charge which has made a big comeback in the last couple of years. It's in the GOP DNA and they aren't going to stop now. But the fact that they had a full-blown hissy fit in the middle of the State of the Union tells you that they are more aware than ever of just how politically lethal it is to be seen doing it at the moment, which tells you something. (Not to mention that Donald Trump has issued an edict that they are not to be touched.)
Biden couldn't have handled the fracas any better if he'd planned it. He engaged with the Republicans right there on the floor with a back-and-forth that ended up with the Republicans all rising to their feet to promise that no cuts would be made to the programs. He was not intimidated by their antics in the least and clearly enjoyed putting them in their places. He was in his element, jousting with political opponents — the picture of a happy warrior:
After Biden's claim that some Republicans want to end Medicare and Social Security provoked GOP anger, the president responds, "I'm glad to see it, I enjoy conversion."— MSNBC (@MSNBC) February 8, 2023
"Social Security and its bookend, Medicare, are off the books now, right?," Biden adds. "We have unanimity!" pic.twitter.com/3aymKQlf1d
This State of the Union speech was one of Biden's best moments as president. He hit all the expected notes of empathy and concern that we've come to expect, particularly when he introduced the parents of Tyre Nichols and proposed new plans for police reform. He pulled no punches when he spoke of the erosion of democracy, harking back to January 6th, 2021 as Kevin McCarthy sulked behind him looking as if he'd just sucked on a kumquat. His speech was a well-written recitation of the major accomplishments achieved by the administration in the last two years, delivered with a sense of confidence that he will be able to "finish the job" — the theme of the address and a clear indication that he is going to run for another term. The economic news is good, even if it hasn't yet hit home to a majority of the country.
The fact is that there is always a lag between the economic numbers turning around and the public's perception of that in their own lives, largely because all they hear is gloom and doom from much of the media. Getting them to break out of that rut may be the best consequence of this successful speech.
The press has been relentlessly hammering him for months, sensing weakness and using that as an opening to demonstrate they are unbiased. As Salon's Chauncey DeVega writes today, "The news media has engaged in endless false equivalency and "bothsidesism" where Biden's failures have been amplified while Trump and the Republican fascists' lawbreaking, criminality, and existential danger to American democracy and society have, in many ways, been downplayed." Biden's confident performance, thinking quickly on his feet, and engaging with the opposition may just give the media the motivation to reset a bit and start reporting the good news about the economy and giving Biden a little credit for a change.
When all was said and done, without a shred of self-awareness, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders delivered the GOP rebuttal to Biden's address and said, "it's not about right or left, it's about normal and crazy." She's right, of course. The country has seen the new GOP House MAGA majority in action twice in the last month, first when they spent days and days acting like spoiled children trying to elect a speaker almost culminating in physical violence on the House floor, and now this juvenile display at the State of the Union. It's clear as day who is normal and who the crazies are.