When South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson yelled “You lie!” during a 2009 speech President Barack Obama delivered to Congress, the breach of decorum quickly became the evening’s most notable moment. Members of both parties condemned the outburst, which was a response to the President’s claim that his health care plan would not apply to undocumented immigrants. After being booed by his colleagues, Wilson issued an apology and expressed contrition to Obama’s chief of staff.
Fourteen years later, heckling, booing, and yelling at the President has become the norm.
During this year’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday, Republicans shouted at President Joe Biden on-and-off throughout the address. Though they were occasionally met by shushing and calls for order, those efforts didn’t end the interruptions.
At the beginning, things seemed to be going smoothly, with Democrats whooping, cheering, and applauding many of Biden’s points and Republicans clapping politely or, most of the time, remaining pointedly silent. But that changed when Biden moved on to the debt ceiling and accused Republicans of wanting to sunset Social Security and Medicare.
Biden’s suggestion led to one of the loudest reactions of the evening, with many Republicans booing and shouting “No!” in response. “Liar!” yelled Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who sat in the back of the chamber wearing a white fur outfit almost as loud as her outcry. But rather than becoming the defining moment of the event, the remark just opened the floodgates.
As more Republicans like Texas Rep. Beth Van Duyne hollered at him, Biden seemed to take the disapprobation in stride, even engaging in a quick back-and-forth with some members at one point. “Let me tell you, I enjoy conversion,” Biden said as GOP lawmakers continued to object to his characterization that their party opposed the popular welfare programs. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy could be seen behind Biden, smirking and shaking his head.
Biden did get Republicans to stand and cheer in agreement that Social Security and Medicare would be protected. Even McCarthy joined in. But not everyone was satisfied. When Biden said he wouldn’t let Social Security or Medicare be taken away, one Republican yelled, “Bullshit!”
Later in the evening, soon after Biden appealed to Republicans to help pass his “comprehensive immigration reform” plan, he prepared to move on to a discussion of abortion rights. But Republicans wouldn’t let him transition so easily, peppering him with shouts of “Secure the border!”
When Biden got to the portion of his speech devoted to China and didn’t mention the infamous Chinese balloon that dominated headlines last week, Greene interjected again.
“China’s spying on us!” she cried. Though she was promptly shushed by her colleagues, she continued speaking as Biden plowed on. Her mouth was still moving as Democrats drowned her out with applause and the President raised his voice.
Even when Biden got to his plan to reduce fentanyl trafficking and abuse, a section of the speech that began with the story of a young woman who died of an overdose, he could not have the floor to himself. He responded to more shouts about the border by pausing and saying, “You got it!”
But when an audience member yelled, “It’s your fault!” Biden just shook his head, smiled, and moved on.
—With reporting from Brian Bennett.