The debt moment when Biden’s State of the Union turned spicy
House Republicans, after remaining relatively subdued in their reactions to the first parts of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, erupted in jeers as he scolded them about the brewing battle over raising the debt limit.
“No president added more to the national debt than my predecessor,” Biden said, referring to former President Donald Trump. “Nearly 25 percent of the entire national debt that took over 200 years to accumulate was added by just one administration alone.”
The statement prompted Republican boos, to which Biden replied: “Those are the facts. Check it out.”
Republicans are insisting on spending cuts and potentially other concessions as Congress girds for a fight over the imminent need to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, while Biden’s party pushes for a clean increase. And the scene in the House chamber grew more tense as, in a nod to those nascent negotiations, Biden said some GOP lawmakers were playing with fire on the nation’s bills.
“Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans … want Medicare and Social Security to sunset,” Biden said, to more sustained boos from GOP lawmakers.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), sitting in the far back of the chamber and dressed in a white fur coat, leaped to her feet and appeared to yell, “Liar!” (A shout of “bullshit” was also audible from the floor during the debt back-and-forth, though it was not clear whether that came from Greene or another member.)
In response to the frustration, Biden acknowledged that Speaker Kevin McCarthy and others in the GOP have declared they won’t touch entitlement programs during the debt talks — in fact, the California Republican delivered a preliminary rebuttal to the president’s speech that pointedly stated as much.
But Biden went on to reiterate that other Republicans have sent a different message, viewing changes to Social Security and Medicare as up for discussion. As he quipped to Republican lawmakers that “so, we agree” on not touching either program, some GOP members appeared to cheer in affirmation.
Asked after the speech about the cry of “liar” toward the president, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) pointed to “a number of things” Biden said as underpinning it. “He tries to keep spreading this false narrative about getting rid of Social Security and Medicare,” Scalise said.
Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) described the combative episode more bluntly: “The president was trying to score political points, despite the fact that Republican leadership has made it clear that Medicare and Social Security benefits are off the table. Republicans made clear their dissatisfaction with his ploy.”
And soon after Biden left the chamber, he tweeted what appeared to be a fresh challenge to Republicans on Social Security and Medicare, as the GOP prepares its fiscal blueprint: “Look: I welcome all converts. But now, let’s see your budget.”
Meredith Lee Hill contributed to this report.