Republican members of Congress, during President Joe Biden’s address to Congress on Wednesday, maintained the ritual of selective applause from opposition lawmakers and then some, with many even going so far as to stay seated and refuse to clap for lines that likely have near-universal support from voters.
Biden got standing ovations from Democrats for declarations like “we are on track to cut child poverty in America in half” and “Wall Street didn’t build this country. The middle class built this country,” but very little applause from Republicans.
Republicans in attendance appeared unsure whether to cheer the line “there’s no reason the blades for wind turbines can’t be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing,” though roughly half ended up standing for that and the subsequent line “Buy American!”
One exception was Biden stating “let’s end cancer as we know it,” which got standing ovations from almost every lawmaker in attendance – though notably not from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Biden even went off script – or as he put it, took a “point of personal privilege,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to Senate procedure – to praise McConnell for naming a cancer research bill after Beau Biden, Biden’s son who died of cancer in 2015.
McConnell even broke with his caucus by remaining seated when Biden praised the Senate for passing a Covid-19 hate crimes bill that passed by a 94-1 margin – a bill McConnell himself voted for.
More predictably, Biden received little fanfare on the Republican side for Democratic policy priorities like raising the minimum wage, strengthening unions and combat climate change.
“Everybody talks about, can I do anything bipartisan. Well, I got to figure out if there’s a party [to] deal with. We need a Republican Party,” Biden told news anchors in a Wednesday briefing before his speech, according to CNN host Jake Tapper. “We need another party… that’s unified, not completely splintered and fearful of one another.”
Biden got a fist-bump from Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the third-ranking House Republican, as he entered the chamber. Cheney has become increasingly notorious among the Republican caucus for her repudiation of former President Donald Trump and willingness to speak her mind, even if it means breaking with fellow House Republican leaders.
Lawmakers from both parties are currently engaged in talks on legislation on police reform, China and infrastructure, but whether deals can be reached on any of those remains a genuinely open question. Republicans have also come out firmly against Biden-supported bills to overhaul elections, grant legal status to millions of immigrants, close gun background check loopholes and admit Washington, D.C. as the 51st state.