Biden Offers Bipartisan Olive Branch During State of the Union. Republicans Slap It Away.

Walking into a Republican-controlled House for the first time during his presidency, President Joe Biden largely tried to offer a bipartisan olive branch during his State of the Union address Tuesday night. What he got in response from the GOP lawmakers seated in the chamber, for the most part, was a slap in the face.

Aside from a few poorly received jabs at the GOP over entitlement programs, Biden seemed to purposefully offer up a speech chock-full of applause bait for Republicans. He chest-thumped about job creation and restoring Made-In-America manufacturing policy. He declared victory over the pandemic—“COVID no longer controls our lives”—and he credited U.S. police officers.

Biden’s first words about Republicans weren’t criticism but praise of their shared legislative accomplishments over the last two years—the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, expansion of health care for veterans, and measures to strengthen the Electoral College.

“We are writing the next chapter in the great American story, a story of progress and resilience,” Biden said. “When world leaders ask me to define America, I define our country in one word: possibilities.”

Republicans had pushed for the bipartisan tone, with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) even saying he asked Biden to refrain from referring to them as “ultra MAGA Republicans.” To be sure, plenty of Republicans stood and clapped at Biden’s praise for the police and the military, and his calls to boost American manufacturing.

But the raucous Republican majority frequently interrupted Biden’s speech when he was speaking about the U.S.-Mexico border, China, and the debt ceiling. Cries of “liar!” and “bullshit!” flew from the GOP side of the chamber—mostly shrugged off by the president. It was a far cry from 2009, when one Republican, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) called Barack Obama a liar and it caused a multi-day news cycle.

Even when Biden was calling out achievements that Republicans had supported, it was mostly the Democratic side of the chamber that rose to cheer. And when the president announced new initiatives that could have easily come from a Republican president, the GOP side was slow to clap, hesitant to stand, muted in their response.

When Biden said he was announcing “new standards to require all construction materials used in federal infrastructure projects to be made in America,” it was only after a handful of Republicans had stood and applauded that the rest of the GOP side rose.

When Biden said he wanted to cap insulin prices at $35 a month—a policy change that could save diabetics hundreds of dollars a month on a life-saving prescription they need every day—hardly any Republicans reacted.

And when Biden said “the tax system is not fair,” only a few Republicans stood and clapped. Most sat in their seats and didn’t react—to a policy statement almost all of them certainly agree with.

For the most part, the election year Biden of 2022—the “Dark Brandon” who called out “MAGA Republicans” every chance he got—was not in the chamber on Tuesday night.

But Biden couldn’t help but get a few digs in. When a few ultra-conservatives cheered after Biden said that they wanted to repeal his marquee Inflation Reduction Act, Biden responded with a favorite quip: “As my high school coach used to say, best of luck in your senior year.”

The president also gently alluded to one of his White House’s main attack lines on Republicans after Congress passed the bipartisan infrastructure law in 2020—that those who voted against it nevertheless wanted their districts to benefit from the bill’s funding.

“To my Republican friends who voted against it but still ask to fund projects in their districts, don’t worry; I promised to be the president for all Americans,” Biden said. “We’ll fund your projects, and I’ll see you at the ground-breaking.”

The tensest moment of the night came when Biden said that, instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, “some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset every five years.”

That statement—factually true—did not sit well with the GOP side of the aisle. Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-TX) repeatedly yelled for Biden to “Name one!” Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) repeatedly called him a “Liar!” Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) was also forcefully shouting something, as were plenty of other Republicans. One member even yelled “Bullshit!”

But, as many Republicans know, sunsetting Medicare and Social Security and forcing a vote every five years on the programs was a proposal from the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s 2022 campaign chief, Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL).

With such a negative response in the chamber, Biden didn’t fight Republicans; he tried to use the moment as an opportunity. He ad-libbed, “So we agree,” and said neither party should touch Medicare or Social Security. Nearly every Republican pointedly made sure to stand and applaud in support of those programs.

Later in his speech, more tense moments came when Biden spoke about immigration and the southern U.S. border—perhaps the issue that Republicans are most contentiously fighting his administration. When he spoke about American deaths from fentanyl, some of which comes to the U.S. through Mexico, one Republican shouted “it’s your fault!” Smatterings of chants of “secure the border” broke out on the GOP side. The address never quite went off the rails; Democrats murmured their dissent and Biden kept going.

At another point, Greene—who had spent Tuesday walking around with a large white balloon as a commentary on the Chinese spy balloon that floated across the United States last week before being downed on Saturday—yelled “China is spying on us!” at a pause in Biden’s speech. Few Democrats or Republicans seemed to have been much fazed.

Still, Biden’s conciliatory tone seemed to work in some areas.

Specifically, when Biden acknowledged some of his guests at the State of the Union, like the parents of a four-year-old girl who beat a rare kidney disease that has just a 5 percent survival rate, Republicans were forced to applaud. Or when Biden acknowledged Paul Pelosi, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband who was brutally beaten in his home by a politically motivated attacker.

Almost every Republican gave Pelosi a standing ovation, with the notable exception of Greene, who stayed in her seat and only eventually gave him a few claps.

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