Whose House? Biden’s House

Faced with ill-behaved children, Biden, the adult, did what you’re supposed to do: He put them in their place

February 8, 2023 3:57 pm

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 07: U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) gives a thumbs down during President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address during a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on February 07, 2023 in Washington, DC. The speech marks Biden’s first address to the new Republican-controlled House. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Normally, when you’re a guest in someone’s house, it’s good manners to roll with the punches, and take whatever comes your way.

Bed too hard? It’s only one night. You’ll live. Don’t like the soup they served for dinner? Maybe you packed snacks in your duffle bag. And if someone says something off-color or hostile at the table, you nod, smile, and file it away for next time.

And then there’s President Joe Biden, who showed no inclination to take any grief from an openly hostile, Republican-controlled House of Representatives as he delivered his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.

Biden served for decades in the glorified AirBnB at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue from his current residence, knows its rules, knows when to compromise and when to counter-punch, and gave as good as he got from a clown-car GOP backbench that called him a liar – and more.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., opened the hostilities, accusing Biden of lying when he said Republicans were planning to sunset Social Security and Medicare.

Never mind that there was more than a grain of truth in the charge – it was included in a GOP re-election platform authored by U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., that Republicans could not run away from fast enough during the 2022 midterm elections.

Democrats dined out on the platform to great effect, occasionally straining the limits of credulity, even as they effectively neutralized what was supposed to be a banner year for the GOP.

Breaking from his script, Biden took on his critics on live TV, telling them he was pleased there was no plan to attack the bedrock entitlement programs.

“I’m glad to see – no, I tell you, I enjoy conversion,” Biden punched back, all but setting the stage for his 2024 re-election bid.

He similarly parried with GOP lawmakers who blamed him for the illegal drugs smuggled across the nation’s southern border. Another lawmaker lobbed an expletive, according to the New York Times.

And acknowledging GOP lawmakers who were mulling an effort to repeal the administration’s landmark Inflation Reduction Act, Biden had his rejoinder at the ready.

“That’s OK,” he quipped. “As my coach would say, ‘lots of luck in your senior year.’”

And Biden couldn’t resist jabs at Republicans who have disparaged the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law, but who have been only too happy to take the money for the projects that it’s underwritten back home.

Granted, Biden stretched the truth on his job-creation claims and on efforts to tame the exporting of American jobs, as the Washington Post pointed out. On the other hand, acts of rhetorical gymnastics are hardly surprising in a speech that basically amounts to a victory lap.

But if Republicans were surprised by the vigor of Biden’s rebuttals, they have only themselves to blame.

For the last two years, the conservative echo chamber has trafficked in the fiction that Biden, 80, is too weak and infirm to lead effectively, only to get their hats handed to them as the Democrat revived his presidency, and with it, his party’s political fortunes in 2022, as Politico noted last fall.

It’s also worth pointing out that these are the same Republicans who maintain a slavish loyalty to the 76-year-old master of Mar-A-Lago, whose capacity for self-sabotage is bottomless, and whose legal problems appear equally depthless.

Biden opened his speech with an appeal for bipartisan cooperation, arguing that Republicans and Democrats had worked together in the prior Congress, and could do so again in the GOP-controlled House.

“The people sent us a clear message. Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict gets us nowhere,” Biden said.

In the end, though, it was Republicans, with their jibes and boos, who came off looking foolish and ill-equipped to govern — which couldn’t have cheered U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., (who was forced to shush his own members) as he sits down to negotiate with the White House over the debt limit.

But that’s the modern GOP. The former president tore up, then burned, the etiquette manual, leaving his acolytes believing they could behave as they please.

And Biden, ever the adult in the room, handled them the same way you handle ill-mannered children who refuse to behave around the table.

He put them in their place with grace and humor — but with no mistake about who was in charge.

This commentary was published earlier by the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom network which includes the Florida Phoenix.

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John Micek
John Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.