Hours before the speech, McCarthy (California) and other Republican leaders had told lawmakers at their weekly conference meeting that all eyes would be on them if Biden made his remarks, according to people in the room before the rally who spoke on condition of anonymity to ensure to talk about freely.
That guidance echoed a similar message from Representative Elise Stefanik (RN.Y.): “Cameras are always on and mics are always hot.” Ahead of the speech, Republicans were not expecting outbursts, and McCarthy had said on Monday that he would not shred the president’s speech the way then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) did to President Donald Trump’s.
But about 40 minutes into his speech, Biden turned to one of the most controversial topical issues facing Congress. Midway through a speech that was by turns folksy and snappy—and contained more than a hint of swagger—he looked at the Republicans sitting in the room to his left and berated them for a lack of specificity in their approach to cutting the budget.
Their decisions under Trump, he said, added more to the national debt than any other president, drawing boos from Republicans.
“It’s the facts!” Biden responded. “View. View!”
It was one of many times when he was harassed in the room, and he seemed to enjoy the open exchanges that broke out in the room of the house and were broadcast on national television. McCarthy, who sat directly behind Biden and within view of the cameras, appeared several times to silence his colleagues.
As Biden mentioned potential cuts to Social Security and Medicare — and how some Republican-backed proposals could lead to cuts to entitlement programs — this sparked one of the most disruptive moments of the night, and loud protests that had long been kept at bay . of the speech were released.
Greene stood up, jabbed her finger and yelled at Biden, “Liar!” Others followed. It was one of many outbursts from Greene interrupting Biden’s speech by yelling, “China is spying on us!” and later, “Secure the border!”
Biden, who seemed both perplexed and energized by the sudden shift in the room, responded by saying, “Anyone who doubts me, contact my office…I’ll give you a copy of the proposal.” He stressed that it was “not a majority” of Republicans who supported such a plan and that it probably wasn’t “even a significant” portion of them.
At least one Republican lawmaker yelled, “Then don’t say it!”
“I enjoy conversion,” Biden joked, suggesting that thoughts in the room had changed on the subject.
After some of the commotion died down, Biden said everyone in the room apparently agreed that “Social Security and Medicare are off the books! We have unanimity!”
“So tonight, let’s all get together – and apparently we are – and stand up for seniors,” Biden added, after which most in the room stood. “Get up and show them! We’re not going to cut social security! We will not cut Medicare! Those benefits belong to the American people. They’ve earned it. … If someone tries to cut Medicare, I will stop them. I’ll veto it… But apparently it won’t be a problem.
White House staffers watching on television in the West Wing cheered and high fived at the time, according to a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Biden’s focus on Social Security and Medicare was one of his main arguments during the midterm elections. He often pointed to a plan by Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.) that aimed to reduce the federal deficit with a proposal to end all federal programs after five years, meaning they would expire unless renewed.
Scott’s plan doesn’t specifically say Social Security or Medicare will expire, but it recommends that “all federal legislation expire within 5 years.”
Some top Republicans had suggested that Scott’s approach was ill-advised — “That won’t be part of the agenda of the majority Republican Senate,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said when Scott’s plan was released — but that didn’t stop Biden. of trying to make Scott the face of the GOP.
More recently, Biden has said Republicans need to provide more details about which programs they want to cut. He accused them of being vague, even though they threaten not to raise the debt limit without spending cuts.
“Some of my Republican friends want to hold the economy hostage,” he said during the speech.
After the speech, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said Biden was wrong in continuing to associate his party with wanting to stop those programs. “He’s trying to keep spreading this false story about abolishing social security and health care,” he said. And I think he eventually admitted it wasn’t true, but he was trying to imply something about Republicans. That’s just not true.”
The going back and forth in the room was a discordant tone and had the feel of the boisterous, free-flowing nature of the British Parliament during Question Time with the Prime Minister, rather than the traditionally more stately setting of the Presidential speech.
Many of Biden’s earlier parts of the speech focused on seemingly bipartisan basic principles — growing blue-collar jobs, boosting US manufacturing, promoting infrastructure projects — that challenged Republicans not to stand their ground. And for much of it, McCarthy stayed put.
McCarthy and Greene have come a long way since Georgia’s congresswoman was elected to the House in 2020. McCarthy’s defense of her when Democrats stripped Greene of her committee duties eventually led to the two forging a closer relationship. She was a vocal supporter of his bid to become speaker, but it wasn’t enough to guarantee the California Republican an easy path to the gavel.
While McCarthy ultimately won by making deals, he remains beholden to the conference’s splintered factions. Greene’s crackdown on Biden underscored that weak grip — that McCarthy couldn’t contain an ally, even after he and other GOP leaders warned lawmakers not to rush to Biden during his speech.
“He honestly lied, talking about Republicans and Social Security and Medicare,” Greene said in a video she released after the speech.
“We haven’t talked about cutting Social Security and Medicare … We’re not doing that,” she said. “So we called him on the House floor. I called him a liar because that’s Joe Biden.”
She continued: “Joe Biden doesn’t know what he’s talking about. That is the state of our union.”
Leigh Ann Caldwell, Liz Goodwin, and Marianna Sotomayor contributed to this report.