Feb 7, 2023 - Politics & Policy

GOP warns of hot mic moment at State of Union

Illustration of a microphone with a lit fuse for a cord

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

House Republicans have been warned to act as if the country is watching — and listening — at the State of the Union.

Why it matters: There are plenty of recent experiences to give House Speaker Kevin McCarthy cause for concern.

  • Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) — who still serves in the House — shouted “You lie!” during then-President Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress in 2009, prompting the Democratic-controlled House to formally reprimand him.
  • Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) heckled President Biden during his State of the Union last year, at one point trying to start a “Build the wall” chant as he spoke about immigration.
  • Some Democrats were disruptive during former President Trump’s State of the Union addresses — with many groaning and booing during his 2018 speech and three walking out in 2020.

What they're saying: "There was just a reminder that there are boom microphones and some people's conversations will be picked up and that anything you're reading on your phone ... could be picked up by a zoom lens," House GOP campaign arm leader Rep. Richard Hudson told Axios after Tuesday's conference meeting.

  • McCarthy told CNN on Tuesday: "We're members of Congress. We have a code of ethics of how we should portray ourselves, that's exactly what we'll do."

Zoom out: The White House told House Democrats and their staffers Tuesday that Biden's address will draw a sharp contrast between how the two parties are approaching policymaking, lawmakers and aides tell Axios.

  • White House senior adviser Anita Dunn briefed lawmakers at a Democratic Policy & Communications Committee meeting Tuesday, while deputy communications director Kate Berner gave a staff-level zoom briefing.
  • "He's going to brag about everything we've accomplished. ... He's going to talk about the things that are still there," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Progressive Caucus, summarizing Dunn's briefing.
  • Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a member of Democratic leadership, said Biden is also expected to make a "commitment to ... work in a bipartisan way."

The details: Berner said the speech will focus heavily on economic policy, with the tagline being a "blue-collar blueprint for America," according to a Democratic aide in the meeting.

  • Biden will also describe his commitment to bipartisanship after Republicans seized control of the House as a "unity agenda," Berner said.

Between the lines: Rather than address Republican investigations into his administration directly, Biden's speech will contrast the motives of Democrats and Republicans — something that will be hammered home on TV by his surrogates.

  • "I expect he’ll contrast our serious commitment to delivering results for the American people," Cicilline said. "I think they’re totally seeing through the chaos they’re seeing from the Republican House."
  • "He'll paint the contrast between what Democrats want to do — we want to deliver for working people — and what Republicans want to do — they just want to shut down the government, cut Social Security and Medicare," Jayapal said. "Progress vs. chaos."
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