House Speaker Kevin McCarthy began his Tuesday projecting strength and control over his unruly, archconservative caucus.
McCarthy has struggled to keep House Republicans, who hold a narrow majority, in line and out of trouble, starting with his prolonged bid for the speakership. But he had a message for reporters ahead of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address: Don’t expect any craziness from us.
McCarthy told reporters there wouldn’t be any “childish games” on his side. And boy, was he wrong.
House Republicans were expecting Sleepy Joe, but they got Joey Kimmel.
Conservative lawmakers upped the performative disdain during Biden’s speech, hollering and heckling throughout. But I imagine Republicans were surprised at how easily Biden dispensed with them.
GOP lawmakers seemed to overplay their hands, thinking they were going to get “Sleepy Joe” (to borrow their insulting moniker). Instead, they made Biden look like a savvy, quick-witted comedian who had no problem dealing with their interruptions and using them to his advantage.
They were expecting Sleepy Joe, but they got Joey Kimmel.
Biden clapped back at Republicans who groaned when he noted, accurately, that about 25% of the current national debt was accumulated during Donald Trump’s administration.
“They’re the facts — check it out,” he said. It was a smart, simple way to highlight Republicans’ hypocritical claims that Democrats are responsible for driving up the national debt.
When Republicans booed Biden for accurately noting that some of them have shared plans to sunset entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, he invited them to contact the White House for a copy. That made things awkward for Republicans like Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who has proudly flaunted his proposal to add entitlement cuts to the GOP’s platform, and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who years ago vowed to “get rid of” Social Security.
Still, some Republicans, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, called Biden a “liar” for the remarks, which opened the door for the president to box them in.
“So, folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right?” he said. “All right, we got unanimity!”
(Watch for Lee’s stunned response at 1:07 in the video below.)
McCarthy even leaned in to the angry dad persona he has used to assert power over his caucus in the past. House Republicans got so unruly Tuesday, McCarthy was seen shushing them multiple times after outbursts. This included after a lawmaker yelled that Americans’ deaths from fentanyl are Biden’s “fault” and an outburst from Greene stoking fear about China.
All in all, not a great coming-out party for McCarthy, who was frequently seen pouting as Biden spoke, in his first major event as House speaker. Yet again, members of his own party defied him and actually made Biden look pretty good in the process.