The day before the State of the Union address, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters that he’d privately given President Joe Biden some advice: Don’t reference “extreme MAGA Republicans” in the address.
“I don’t think that’s [an] appropriate comment that the president should make,” the California Republican said. “I’ve expressed that to him in private and we’ve had discussions about that as well.”
In other words, as far as the House speaker is concerned, those in positions of authority, especially during a nationally televised event, should be mindful of decorum. If Biden referenced “extreme MAGA Republicans” in his speech, it might hurt radical members’ feelings, while simultaneously detracting from the dignity associated with a joint session.
Evidently, McCarthy adopted an entirely different set of standards the day after the State of the Union address. The Washington Post reported:
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) on Wednesday excused fellow Republicans who heckled President Biden during his State of the Union address, saying they were “passionate.” But he suggested that the smarter play would be not to “take the bait” from Biden.
The Republican leader appeared on Fox News, and a “Fox & Friends” co-host noted polling evidence suggesting some voters were turned off by the heckling. Asked what happened, McCarthy replied, “Well, the president was trying to goad the members, and the members are passionate about it.”
So to recap, GOP members engaged in unprecedented, unhinged, and occasionally profane presidential heckling during a joint session of Congress, with one right-wing extremist going so far as to shout, “Liar!” part way through the address. Ahead of the event, the speaker encouraged his members not to engage in such conduct, but some of them ignored the advice.
Asked about this, McCarthy both blamed Biden for his members’ outbursts and defended the antics as “passionate.”
There’s a school of thought that suggests our political standards are due for an overhaul. An American president is not a monarch. If members of Congress — or any other group of Americans, for that matter — want to boo, jeer, and heckle a president, that’s their right. It’s a free country, and there’s no reason to assume that a sitting president should be shielded from derision.
It’s a fair argument, and if the era of the “polite“ State of the Union is over, that’s not necessarily a bad or unhealthy development. Perhaps these addresses will start to more closely resemble a British prime minister’s “question time” in the U.K. parliament.
But it’s worth pausing to at least acknowledge a couple of relevant details. First, McCarthy should probably at least try to strive for some kind of consistency: The House speaker thinks it’s wrong for a president to reference “extreme MAGA Republicans,” but it’s fine for one of his members to falsely accuse Biden of being a “liar” during a joint session broadcast to the world?
Second, we’re clearly witnessing an evolution in GOP politics, which used to take great pride in presenting itself to the electorate as the “grown-up” party. Those days are over. As The New York Times summarized today, Tuesday night’s display “reflected the ethos that has come to define the Republican-led House, where an emboldened right wing that styles itself after former President Donald J. Trump is unapologetic about its antipathy for Mr. Biden and eager to show it in attention-grabbing ways.”