In the strongest moment of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, the President used Republican boos and jeers to veer off script and push members of the opposing party into backing off their long-discussed desire to cut Medicare and Social Security.
Republicans, who heckled to such an intense degree that Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) repeatedly shushed them from the dais, erupted as soon as Biden mentioned their plans.
“Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset every five years,” he said, prompting the uproar.
Despite the faux outrage, many Republicans have publicly expressed their desire to cut the programs. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) included sunsetting both of them in his plan for the Republican Senate agenda, forcing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to explicitly and publicly slap down the proposals.
Republicans also called for cutting both programs in the House Study Committee budget, and McCarthy and Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) both went on TV and did not deny the plans — Scalise, instead, quibbled with calling Republicans’ desired changes “cuts.” McCarthy has since walked back his own support for changes to the programs, but numerous other Republican members have been candid in their desire to see the programs gutted.
“I’m not saying it’s the majority of them,” Biden ad-libbed, as the Republican side of the chamber started to shout.
“Anybody who doubts it, contact my office — I’ll give you a copy of the proposal,” he said, raising his voice above the din.
McCarthy shook his head, and a fur-clad Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) yelled “liar!”
“Now, I tell you, I enjoy conversion,” Biden quipped of the seeming policy reversal, sending the chamber into laughter.
“I’m politely not naming them, but it’s being proposed by some of you,” he said, turning his body to address the vocal Republican side of the House floor.
“So as we all apparently agree — Social Security and Medicare are off the books now,” he said to loud applause, giving a thumbs up. “Alright — we’ve got unanimity!”
He then tacked on small asides as he returned to his prepared remarks.
“If anyone tries to cut Social Security — which apparently no one’s gonna do — I will stop them,” he embellished.
“I will not allow them to be taken away. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever,” he read from his prepared remarks, adding: “But apparently, it’s not gonna be a problem,” prompting Vice President Kamala Harris to laugh over his shoulder.
It was an exceptionally creative use of the Republican heckling, and gave his speech a blast of momentum. Viewers saw Biden not cowed by the Republican interruptions, but able to convert them into a policy negotiating win in real time.
What’s more, the White House had been saturating the media landscape with critiques of Republican desires to cut the programs, in tandem with Republicans’ hostage-taking of the debt ceiling, threatening default. Thanks to Republicans’ own outcry, the section of the speech in which Biden levied those critiques will almost certainly be pulled out as the biggest moment of the night.
Watch the moment here: