According to Axios, 38.2 million people tuned into President Biden’s State of the Union Address on March 1st, a number that rose 42% from another address of his to Congress in April. In a speech that elicited loud chants of “U-S-A” from a political body that has been characterized by division in recent years, Mr. Biden condemned President Putin’s actions in Ukraine, as well as called for Congressional support of measures important to the White House’s domestic agenda. Biden also made his policy on policing abundantly clear, saying that the answer is to “Fund them with resources and training, resources and training they need to protect their communities.” Seeking to pursue a “unity agenda,” the President outlined four policy objectives that he said both parties should be able to agree on, these being a fight against the opioid crisis, bringing an end to cancer, “support[ing] veterans,” and “tak[ing] on mental health.” Other policy objectives outlined by the President included a 35 dollar per month cap on the price of insulin, as well as “home and long-term care[,] More affordable housing[,] Pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds,” all with the goal of lowering costs for families.
President Biden’s State of the Union was unusually well received. The President’s approval rating jumped 8 points from its position a month ago after the address to 48%. Historically, since 1978, there have only been 6 instances when an approval rating has jumped four points or more after a State of the Union address, three of which came from President Clinton. Other measures of the President’s performance showed a significant bounce following the address, with the handling of Ukraine rising 18 points to 52% approval, pandemic handling to 55%, up 8 points, and economic handling rising by 8 points to 45%. Though, the changes are not necessarily a bipartisan reflection of approval. Among Democrats, the approval number for the handling of Ukraine rose 27%, 17% for Independents, and only 6% for Republicans.
Despite a relatively low bounce among Republicans, the same poll measuring the approval ratings found that 69% of people would still support the sanctions that Biden’s administration has leveled against Russia, even if “they result in higher energy prices,” as Mr. Biden has warned they might. Yet, in spite of the State of the Union’s favorable reception, it was not afforded the same enthusiastic support from certain members of Congress, with the “usual suspects,” Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO) trying to disrupt the speech on multiple occasions.
While discussing the effects of proximity to “burn pits” for American soldiers, Biden said that one of the medical ailments faced by veterans following their deployments was “a cancer that would put them in a flag-draped coffin,” to which Boebert exclaimed “You put them in. Thirteen of them,” referring to the thirteen US service members killed in Kabul in an attack preceding the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Boebert’s exclamation was met immediately with boo’s from other spectators, before the President continued his speech, saying that “one of those soldiers (killed by cancer following deployment) was my son, Major Beau Biden.” Mr. Biden went on to ask Congress to pass a law to “make sure veterans devastated by toxic exposures in Iraq and Afghanistan finally get the benefits and the comprehensive health care that they deserve.”
Though shocking, Boebert’s outburst was not the only disruption she was a part of during the State of the Union address. After addressing the need to “secure our border and fix the immigration system,” the President received a standing ovation from much of the chamber. Yet, among the claps, Representatives Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene could be heard chanting “build the wall” repeatedly.
When Republican South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson shouted “you lie” during a speech to Congress given by President Obama in 2009, members of both parties criticized the heckling, and formally rebuked him in the House of Representatives with a 240-179 vote, and 7 Republicans voting in favor. Wilson offered an apology in a statement directed to the President following the speech, as well as calling the White House to apologize directly. Following the criticism, Boebert tweeted that she “couldn’t stay silent” on the topic, and during an interview, said that she would “absolutely do it again.” The reaction from prominent Democrats has been strong, with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) saying that she thinks the two representatives “should just shut up.” The reaction from fellow Republicans has been far less outspoken, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) only going as far as to say that “civil behavior is a good idea in Congress…a respectful response to the State of the Union would be the norm.”
The lack of a formal rebuke by the Republican party leadership suggests that they are not interested in punishing their far-right flank for the disruptions at the State of the Union; yet, an outside of the party establishment is a characterization that Ms. Greene doesn’t accept, saying that “We are not the fringe; we are the base of the party.” The silence on Ms. Greene and Ms. Boebert’s actions at the State of the Union comes after a previous condemnation of Ms. Greene by Republican leaders for speaking at a Florida gathering of white nationalists, where, according to NBC News, “attendees chanted in praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin.” Representative Jim Banks (R-IND) also criticized Greene for participating in the white nationalist gathering, saying that “It’s unbecoming for a member of Congress to speak at an event that’s promoted by anyone who espouses those views,” and that it is an event “that no Republican should attend.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said that he would discuss the matter with Ms. Greene and Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who also spoke at the event.
It is unclear, however, if McCarthy will stand by his previous guarantee of giving Ms. Greene her committee positions back should Republicans retake the House of Representatives in the Midterm elections. Ms. Greene was taken off of the Education and Budget committees after a 230-199 vote in the House, with only 11 Republicans voting in the affirmative. In a speech on the House floor, Ms. Greene went back on her previous claims that a shooting that took place in Parkland, Florida, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was a “false flag” operation, saying that it was “absolutely real.” She also said that the September 11, 2001 attacks “absolutely happened,” after previously questioning whether a plane had really flown into the Pentagon during the attack.
The Republican party’s utter failure to formally push back against Ms. Greene, her rhetoric, and her actions, as well as other members of Congress, like Lauren Boebert, who joined her in chanting during the State of the Union, is both frightening, yet simultaneously signals an opportunity for Democrats in upcoming elections. By tying Ms. Greene to candidates like Herschel Walker, the former football star who will challenge Rafael Warnock (D-GA) for his Senate seat at the midterm, Democrat political groups are seeking to secure suburban independent voters that may have voted for Biden in the Presidential Election, but by a slim margin. As said by their President, the goal of one group, American Bridge, is to make midterm elections a choice between a “Republican Party of extremists against a Democratic Party focused on the economy and governance”
Ahead of a midterm election season of enormous consequence for the nation, the conclusion of the President’s State of the Union address was abundantly clear and hopeful: “the state of the union is strong…We are stronger today than we were a year ago. And we’ll be stronger a year from now than we are today.” Despite attempts by Representatives Greene and Boebert to interrupt the speech in a notable “breach of decorum,” Mr. Biden sought to and succeeded in bringing unity and hope to an America in which 7 in 10 people are worried that there will be a deployment of nuclear weapons in response to the crisis in Ukraine.