Lauren Boebert disrupts Joe Biden’s first State of the Union as he discusses his son’s death

Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene also tried and failed to start "Build the wall" chant in the House chamber

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published March 2, 2022 1:30AM (EST)

US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress in the U.S. Capitol House Chamber on March 1, 2022 in Washington, DC. During his first State of the Union address, President Joe Biden was expected to speak on his administration’s efforts to lead a global response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, work to curb inflation, and bring the country out of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Saul Loeb - Pool/Getty Images)
US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress in the U.S. Capitol House Chamber on March 1, 2022 in Washington, DC. During his first State of the Union address, President Joe Biden was expected to speak on his administration’s efforts to lead a global response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, work to curb inflation, and bring the country out of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Saul Loeb - Pool/Getty Images)

President Biden gave his first State of the Union address against the backdrop of all-out war in Europe, vowing to make Russian President Vladimir Putin "pay a price" for his brutal invasion of Ukraine and listing his domestic priorities before his speech was disrupted by Republican rancor.

Biden used his address to Congress to reset his stalled domestic agenda, address inflation concerns, renew his call for gun control legislation and tout the qualifications of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, but the crisis in Ukraine overshadowed the event. Many lawmakers wore Ukrainian flag lapel pins and blue-and-yellow clothing in a show of bipartisan support — at least before the night was ultimately disrupted by overtly partisan heckling from Reps. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.

Boebert and Greene interrupted Biden's speech as he discussed border policy to start a brief "Build the wall" chant that received no support from anyone else in the chamber.

Later in the speech, Biden discussed his administration's efforts to help troops and veterans affected by toxic burn pits, noting that health ailments like cancer "put them in a flag-draped coffin."

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Boebert again heckled Biden, shouting, "you put them in, 13 of them," apparently referring to 13 service members who died during Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan, moments before the president began discussing his son Beau Biden, who served in Iraq as an Army officer and died of cancer in 2015. Boebert's interruption was met with a chorus of boos.

Biden kicked off his speech with a warning to Putin and a message of support for Ukraine, calling on Congress to approve billions in military and humanitarian aid as Russian missiles rained down in civilian areas. Biden also said the U.S. would ban Russian aircraft from its airspace amid a slew of sanctions aimed at crippling the country's economy. "We're coming for your ill-gotten gains," he said, vowing to target Russian oligarchs' yachts and assets. But Biden warned Americans to prepare for potential economic pain at home as a result of the war.

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"Throughout our history we've learned this lesson: when dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos," Biden said. "They keep moving. And the costs and threats to America and the world keep rising."

Biden's guests for the event included Oksana Marakova, Ukraine's ambassador to the U.S., who received a lengthy standing ovation. The president touted the heroism of Ukraine's troops and citizens and the near-universal support for the country from the international community.

"Six days ago, Russia's Vladimir Putin sought to shake the foundations of the free world thinking he could make it bend to his menacing ways. But he badly miscalculated," he said. "He thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead, he met a wall of strength he never imagined: He met the Ukrainian people."

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Still, Biden reasserted his promise not to send U.S. troops to help fight Russian troops, vowing that "our forces are not engaged and will not engage in conflict with Russian forces in Ukraine."

The bipartisan support for Biden's fiery rhetoric on Ukraine quickly fizzled when Biden sought to tout the success of his pandemic relief bill, drawing boos from Republicans as he drew a contrast with former President Donald Trump's lone major piece of legislation.

"Unlike the $2 trillion tax cut passed in the previous administration that benefited the top 1 percent of Americans, the American Rescue Plan helped working people — and left no one behind," he said.

Biden also touted the bipartisan infrastructure bill he signed, taking another jab at Trump.

"We're done talking about infrastructure weeks. We're talking about an infrastructure decade," he said.

But the crisis in Ukraine has upended the administration's domestic plans, which were already on life support. Biden's agenda has stalled since last year after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and a deep-pocketed lobbying campaign blew up Build Back Better negotiations. Manchin notably sat on the Republican side during the president's address. Biden sought to reset his effort to pass a big spending bill (no longer described as "Build Back Better"), urging Congress to overcome party frictions and approve popular components of the plan such as lowering prescription drug costs, cutting energy and child care costs, and funding affordable housing. Biden also called on Congress to increase the minimum wage to $15, enact paid family leave, extend the child tax credit and pass the PRO Act to help working families. He called on Congress to pass legislation to "make corporations start paying their fair share" and increase taxes on the wealthy to pay for the party's agenda.

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"My plan will not only lower costs and give families a fair shot, it will lower the deficit," he said. "The previous administration not only ballooned the deficit for very wealthy corporations, it undermined the watchdogs, the job of those to keep pandemic relief funds being wasted."

Biden announced that the Justice Department would appointed a special prosecutor to target "pandemic fraud."

"The watchdogs are back," he said. "We are going to go after the criminals who stole billions of relief money meant for small businesses and millions of Americans."

The president also used the speech to address economic and crime concerns, issues that threaten to complicate his party's chances in the upcoming fall midterms as his poll numbers continue to fall. Under fire from Republicans over rising inflation, Biden called on Congress to pass his bill to expand the production of microchips and other products in the U.S., which he said would "lower your costs, not your wages."

"One way to fight inflation is to drive down wages and make Americans poorer. I have a better plan to fight inflation," he said. "Lower your costs, not your wages. Make more cars and semiconductors in America. More infrastructure and innovation in America. More goods moving faster and cheaper in America. More jobs where you can earn a good living in America. And, instead of relying on foreign supply chains — let's make it in America."

Biden blamed corporate greed for stifling competition and contributing to widespread price increases, announcing a "crackdown on companies overcharging American businesses and consumers."

He also touted his administration's COVID response, commending the CDC for easing masking guidelines and announcing a new round of free home COVID tests the administration plans to send out to anyone who requests them. He also announced a "test to treat" initiative so that people who test positive for COVID at pharmacies can receive antiviral pills at no cost.

"I cannot promise a new variant will not come, but I can promise you we can do everything within our power to be ready if it does," he said.

Biden also highlighted his administration's support for police officers in an apparent attempt to undercut frequent Republican claims that Democrats want to "defund the police," calling for local governments to use COVID relief funds to hire more cops and increase police overtime in response to rising crime rates in some cities.

"Let's not abandon our streets or choose between safety and equal justice. Let's come together to protect our committees, restore trust and hold law enforcement accountable," he said. "The answer is not to defund the police, it is to fund the police," he added.

Biden renewed his call for Congress to pass gun safety legislation, including universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and a repeal of the liability shield that protects gun manufacturers from liability in shootings.

He also called out Republican-led states that have passed legislation "not only to suppress the vote but to subvert the entire election." He urged Congress to pass voting rights legislation to preserve "the most fundamental right in America."

Biden later in the speech praised retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and lauded Jackson as "one of our nation's legal minds" with support from a raft of conservative groups.

Underscoring the divisions in both parties, Biden's speech was not only met with a traditional Republican response from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds but also an "America First" response from Greene, who recently headlined a white nationalist conference. Democrats also aired three different responses, including a progressive response from Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., a Congressional Black Caucus response from Rep. Collin Allred, D-Texas, and a response sponsored by the bipartisan moderate group No Labels from Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J.

In a speech heavily focused on inflation, an issue Republicans plan to hammer in the midterms, Reynolds argued that Biden and Democrats "have sent us back in time to the late '70s and early '80s, when runaway inflation was hammering families, a violent crime wave was crashing on our cities, and the Soviet army was trying to redraw the world map."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Joe Biden Lauren Boebert Marjorie Taylor Greene Politics Reporting Republicans State Of The Union