Mar 7, 2024 - Politics & Policy

House Republicans defy Mike Johnson on heckling Biden

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, wearing a red blazer, white "Say her name, Laken Riley" shirt, red "Make America Great Again" hat and several lapel buttons.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Photo: Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

House Republicans repeatedly heckled President Biden during the State of the Union on Thursday despite pleas from House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) to act respectfully.

Why it matters: As many Republicans feared, Biden was able to spar with the disruptors and use their jeers to make his own policy points.

Driving the news: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), as in past years, was the most disruptive by far, immediately donning a "Make America Great Again" hat as Biden entered the chamber.

  • Cries of "boo" and "liar" peppered the speech from the Republican side, with GOP lawmakers also urging Biden to reference Laken Riley, a Georgia nursing student allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant.
  • As Biden advocated raise taxes on corporations, Greene referenced Hunter Biden's tax charges, yelling: "Tell Hunter to pay his taxes!"

When Biden called for new gun control measures, jeers were again heard from the GOP side, with one lawmaker yelling: "Shall not be infringed!"

  • When Biden said no U.S. boots would be on the ground in Gaza, a Republican lawmaker murmured: "Bulls***."
  • Several GOP lawmakers left the speech mid-way, including Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio), who told Axios, "It was a full blown campaign speech."

The backdrop: Johnson urged Republicans in a closed-door GOP conference meeting on Wednesday to show "decorum" at the speech.

  • The argument he made, according to lawmakers in the room, was that disrupting the speech only played into Biden's hands and allowed him to appear dynamic.
  • Republicans have repeatedly and loudly heckled Biden at his past State of the Union addresses.
  • But Greene and others made clear they wouldn't heed his requests, with Greene telling Axios: "I think decorum is already broken."

Zoom in: Biden and Greene got into a back and forth on Laken Riley, with Greene shouting for him to "say her name!"

  • "Laken Riley, an innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal," Biden responded, before holding up a button Greene gave him referencing the killed nursing student.
  • Biden then pivoted to a call for Republicans to support a bipartisan national security that includes border restrictions, stating: "How many thousands of people being killed by illegals? … Get this bill done. We need to act now."

The intrigue: Multiple guests sitting in the gallery above the chamber had to be removed for disrupting the speech — an extremely rare occurrence that underscores the degraded standard of civility at the annual speech.

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