Biden brings his battle with Republicans on the road after contentious State of the Union

DeForest, Wisconsin

President Joe Biden brought his State of the Union populist economic messaging to Wisconsin on Wednesday, firing back at Republicans and highlighting US manufacturing in a preview of an expected 2024 argument in the battleground state.

Biden made clear that he was willing to continue the fight as he hit the road, reigniting the social safety net argument with Republicans that sparked one of the most memorable moments in Tuesday’s speech. The argument highlighted Biden’s attempts to shift his message away from the “extreme MAGA” and “mega-MAGA” talking points of the 2022 midterm election.

“Last night, I reported on the State of the Union: It is strong, it is strong,” Biden told the room of union workers at a LiUNA training facility in DeForest, Wisconsin, reiterating much of his economic messaging and highlighting key legislative accomplishments.

But as he quipped that he had a “spirited debate last night” with Republicans on Social Security and Medicare, Biden offered a new warning to the GOP.

“Look – a lot of Republicans, their dream is to cut Social Security and Medicare. Well, let me just say this: It’s your dream, but I’m gonna have my veto pen make it a nightmare,” he said.

Republicans repeatedly heckled Biden during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, ignoring the occasional shushes from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. In moments throughout the address, Republicans in the House chamber shouted at Biden, protesting his approach to a wide range of issues such as immigration, Social Security and Medicare spending and the debt ceiling.

Biden said that some Republicans, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, “seemed shocked” when he highlighted their colleagues’ efforts to cut those social safety net programs, holding up a “brochure” with Florida GOP Sen. Rick Scott’s plan to require all federal legislation – including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – to be authorized every five years. He referenced quotes on the matter from Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who received boos and hisses, and Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee.

“There’s a senator named Mike Lee who was also yelling, ‘Liar, liar, house on fire’ kind of stuff last night. … They played last night, something I didn’t even know existed, a video of him saying, ‘I’m here right now to tell you one thing you’ve probably never heard from a politician: It’ll be my objective to phase out Social Security,’” he said.

Biden continued, “Sounds pretty clear to me – how about you? But they (Republican lawmakers) sure didn’t like me calling him on it.”

Shortly after Biden’s remarks near Madison, PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff asked him if he was expecting the kind of reaction he got in the House chamber.

“From the folks that did it, I was,” Biden said. “The vast of majority of Republicans weren’t that way, but you know, there’s still a significant element of what I call the ‘MAGA Republicans.’”

The president told Woodruff that McCarthy “was gracious,” and so were “a lot of the members.”

As for last night’s “conversion” of some Republicans, he offered skepticism during his speech: “I sure hope that’s true. I’ll believe it when I see it when their budget’s laid down with the cuts they’re proposing. But looks like we negotiated a deal last night on the floor of the House of Representatives.”

Earlier in the speech, Biden attempted to make a broader argument for working together with GOP lawmakers, touting the successes of his first two years in office.

“Why can’t we do it again?” he asked.

“People sent us a clear message: Fighting for the sake of fighting gets us nowhere. We’re getting things done,” he said, before going on to draw clear arguments against his Republican colleagues.

And he again called on Congress to raise the nation’s debt limit during his earlier remarks, warning against the “chaos” he said Republicans are “suggesting.”

Biden also fired back at a television commentator he heard aboard Air Force One lamenting his focus on junk fees: “Junk fees may not matter to the wealthy people, but they matter of most folks like the home I grew up in. They add hundreds of dollars a month to make it harder to pay your bills or afford that family trip. I know how unfair it feels when a company overcharges you and think they can get away with it.”

This story has been updated with additional information.

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