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The State of the Union continues evolving into a circus

Decorum did not hold with Marjorie Taylor Greene leading the jeers

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., greeted President Joe Biden at the State of the Union wearing a Make America Great Again hat.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., greeted President Joe Biden at the State of the Union wearing a Make America Great Again hat. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

When President Joe Biden was finished delivering his third State of the Union speech, House Judiciary ranking member Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., told the president, “no one’s going to talk about cognitive impairment now.”

“I kinda wish sometimes I was cognitively impaired,” the president replied, after an evening of pageantry, political zingers and call and response with his allies and adversaries in the joint session of Congress.

He stuck around talking with members and taking pictures well past the conclusion of the event, with the House adjourning while he was still in the center aisle, and roughly half the lights turned off in the chamber before he left.

Hours earlier, arriving via that same aisle, Biden faced a critic clad in one of former President Donald Trump’s red Make America Great Again campaign hats before hearing a crowd of supporters lead a cheer of “four more years” from across the room.

“I thought that some of my favorite moments were actually when he gets heckled, he doesn’t stop,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said. “He engages with them. He didn’t back down.”

But this was not a campaign event: The heckler and supporters were members of Congress gathered on the House floor for the State of the Union address. It was Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who greeted the president with the MAGA hat, handing him a pin honoring Laken Riley, the Georgia nursing student allegedly killed by a Venezuelan citizen who entered the United States illegally.

When the president reached the immigration policy portion of his remarks, Greene made her interjection, calling out Riley’s name and prompting Biden to respond.

The president held up the button and said she was “an innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal. To her parents I say, and my heart goes out to you having lost children myself, I understand.”

After the speech, Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Ill., criticized the use of the term “illegal.”

“When you say illegal, you’re saying the same word that Marjorie Taylor Greene says over and over and over. … We can’t use words like that because words matter. And it was really unfortunate. He got flustered, yes. but those words should never come out of a president,” Ramirez said.

There were interjections from across the room throughout the speech, but none seemed quite as staged. There were calls to “build a wall” and myriad cries for another Biden term, and a disruption from one of the visitor’s galleries.

Tennessee GOP Rep. Tim Burchett, who had a rather prolonged exchange with the president during Biden’s walk down the center aisle to begin his remarks, said later “we talked about Corvettes and ice cream and he asked for my wife’s phone number.”

Former Rep. George Santos, who was expelled from the House in December, was on the floor ahead of the speech. Before the president had finished speaking, he announced plans to challenge Long Island Republican Rep. Nick LaLota.

“After a lot of prayer and conversation with my friends and family, I have made a very important decision that will shake things up,” Santos posted on X. “Tonight, I want to announce that I will be returning to the arena of politics and challenging Nick for the battle over #NY1. I look forward to debating him on the issues and on his weak record as a Republican.”

The first portion of the president’s speech, which focused on foreign policy and renewed his call for continuing aid to Ukraine, came before copies of his prepared remarks were distributed, perhaps making the in-person audience more attentive to the president’s message.

“And yes, my purpose tonight is to both wake up this Congress, and alert the American people that this is no ordinary moment either. Not since President Lincoln and the Civil War have freedom and democracy been under assault here at home as they are today,” the president said. “What makes our moment rare is that freedom and democracy are under attack, both at home and overseas, at the very same time.”

Decorum held for a while, but the cheers and jeers ultimately won out, with the House chamber descending again into a reality television program that appeared to make Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., appear uncomfortable behind the president.

But then again, it is “the people’s House.”

K. Sophie Will, Paul V. Fontelo, Nina Heller, Olivia Bridges, Daniel Hillburn, Victor Feldman and Justin Papp contributed to this report.

This report was corrected to reflect the correct word choice in the Nadler-Biden exchange.

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