WASHINGTON — President Biden’s State of the Union devolved into a near-shouting match Tuesday night as Republicans disputed his claim they were plotting Social Security and Medicare cuts before blaming the president for fentanyl deaths — as Biden barely mentioned China after a spy balloon traversed US airspace last week.
The 80-year-old president began his 73-minute address appearing to make an effort to follow through on the White House’s “unity” messaging spin — warmly greeting House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) after entering, before he proceeded to accuse the GOP of trying to abandon America’s seniors.
“Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset,” Biden claimed amid an uproar from the GOP side of the House chamber.
The president first attempted to calm the heckling by telling his audience, “I’m not saying it’s a majority” — before growing defiant as the din increased.
“Anybody who doubts it, contact my office, I’ll give you a copy of the proposal,” Biden said amid the jeers.
“Liar!” shouted Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).
“I’m glad to see — no, I tell you, I enjoy conversion,” the president shot back.
Biden has repeatedly claimed that the GOP wants to cut Social Security and Medicare — despite McCarthy repeatedly and publicly ruling that out as he and other conservatives push for cuts to discretionary spending and a clawback of unspent pandemic stimulus funds to resolve a debt ceiling impasse.
The White House has defended Biden’s messaging by pointing to advocacy by members of the large House Republican Study Committee to raise the retirement age for future beneficiaries.
The president managed to get the chamber back onside moments later by calling on members of both parties to “stand up for seniors” and keep Social Security and Medicare in place. The members duly obliged with a standing ovation.
The House chamber — packed with senators, cabinet members, Supreme Court justices and other government leaders — again descended into chaos moments later as Biden talked about surging fentanyl overdoses. Republicans have repeatedly attacked the president over the first two years of his administration for not doing more to counter the scourge of the largely China-sourced synthetic compound, which is increasingly mixed into non-opioids and counterfeit prescriptions, killing unwitting users.
“Fentanyl is killing more than 70,000 Americans a year,” Biden began, provoking more indignant outbursts.
Greene shouted the drug was from “China,” while two male voices shouted at the president: “It’s your fault” — though it was unclear if they were the same person.
“So let’s launch a major surge to stop fentanyl production, end the sale and trafficking, with more drug detection machines, inspection of cargo to stop pills and powder at the border,” Biden continued — without any direct mention of the source nation of the chemicals.
The president botched the number of US fentanyl deaths last month when raising the issue with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador — after critics blasted him for not paying enough attention to the issue.
Fentanyl killed roughly 196,000 Americans in 2018-2021 alone. The data from 2022 are not yet available but preliminary figures show the death toll remaining at or near all-time highs.
Congressional Republicans led by Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) in October and again in December asked Biden to meet to discuss fentanyl while blaming him for not doing more to stop the influx of the drug.
“[F]amilies’ pleas to the administration to step up their fight against the fentanyl crisis have fallen on deaf ears,” Banks and seven other House Republicans wrote to Biden. “We respectfully request a meeting so that we can discuss solutions to the fentanyl crisis, discuss what we learned from constituents… and share with you a box of obituaries, pictures and letters from grieving loved ones who want you to see the real life impact your refusal to address this crisis is having on families throughout our country.”
Biden, who is gearing up for a 2024 re-election campaign despite already being the oldest-ever president, made few mentions of China despite wall-to-wall news coverage last week of the large Chinese spy balloon that drifted over Alaska before crossing from Montana to South Carolina and being shot down Saturday off the Atlantic Coast.
“Today we are the strongest position in decades to compete with China or anyone else in the world,” Biden said.
“I’m committed to work with China where we can advance American interests and benefit the world, but make no mistake about it, as we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country, and we did.”
“China’s spying,” remarked Greene, who carried a much smaller white balloon through the halls of Congress earlier in the day to provide a visible reminder of the White House’s inaction.
Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) joked to The Post before the speech, “There’s a greater chance that that balloon would hit someone in Montana than there is that Joe Biden’s ancestors are coal miners,” referring to Biden’s 1987 appropriation of UK politician Neil Kinnock’s life history.
Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) called the balloon controversy a “national embarrassment.”
“Explain to me now, why did they not shoot it down when it was over the Aleutian Islands or Alaska?” said Jackson, a former Navy admiral and onetime physician to Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) said, “when you look at the Biden balloon that came across the country for a week and you look at how he changed from calling China an adversary and confronting China, as President Trump did, to calling China a partner and a competitor — how much has that been influenced by the Biden family’s corrupt business deals?”
There was some bipartisan applause despite the remarkably contentious remarks, with members of both parties cheering for capping insulin prices and catching people who stole from COVID-19 relief funds.