Dark Brandon Rises
A quick recap of the State of the Union.
“Kwisatz haderach…climb up…arise.” - Dune
Happy Friday everyone. This will be a shorter Jackal because I’ll be giving you all a bonus Jackal next week. I wanted to touch on the State of the Union, or the State of the Onion, as I like to pronounce it. It turns out that the state of our Onion is that it is a red onion, which is by far the best kind of onion, unless you are counting shallots. Then shallots are clearly the best onion. Big gulps, eh?
If you missed President Biden’s speech on Tuesday night, you can watch it here or read the transcript here. Overall, I think it was a typically decent speech for a “normal” President to make in his second year. Opinions that it was the best State of the Union ever are probably wrong and silly. But it was really significant for a couple of reasons:
The Debt Ceiling Debate™ is a huge issue going forward, and Biden essentially won it live during the State of the Union.
The House GOP is so nuts they are actually pushing Biden towards re-election.
I think we have to discuss the top two topics by starting off with a tweet from Marjorie Taylor Greene:
We are totally a serious country.
As Biden’s speech went on, Greene became a focal point as she openly screamed at the President and called him a liar. Greene was the loudest, and other Republicans began to follow suit. Greene got so out of hand that McCarthy started shushing her from the dais (again, we are a totally serious country). David Frum reflected on how things had changed from Joe Wilson shouting, “You lie!” at President Obama:
The outburst shocked viewers. Wilson, not Obama, was the top trending item on Twitter in the aftermath of the speech. Wilson apologized, “I let my emotions get the best of me.” Then–Republican Conference Chair Mike Pence expressed regret: “Joe made a mistake.” Wilson was formally reprimanded by a vote of the House.
More than a decade later, that all seems quaint. Not only did Republicans repeatedly heckle, jeer, and shout during President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, but Biden was ready for them. In impromptu remarks not included in the prepared text of the speech, Biden rolled with the interruptions, using them to reinforce his message. Biden accused “some” Republicans of plotting to sunset Social Security and Medicare. When he got protests, he grinned and accepted them as a “unanimous” endorsement. “I welcome all converts,” he told them, recasting for the television audience the Republican hubbub as a sign of submission.
This was a remarkable part of the speech and - to me - is what makes it one of the most significant State of the Union addresses in history. Biden essentially negotiated with Republicans in real-time and got them to shelve one of their long-term goals, which is cutting Social Security and Medicare. It is really worth watching:
To recap: Joe Biden successfully goaded Republicans into vocally challenging him on sunsetting Social Security and Medicare, and then got them to agree - even stand up and cheer - for keeping both programs off the table when it comes to the debt ceiling negotiations. Not bad for someone with dementia.1
I am not kidding, it was one of the most masterful things I have seen happen in politics. Biden straight up knee-capped Republicans in 4K. And he was able to do so because the GOP House is led by people like Greene, who do not have any real policy goals besides being loud and dressing like Cruella DeVille’s drunk step-sister. The big shadow lurking in the background of this spectacle is that the GOP House just comes across as nuts. The more people like Greene are in the spotlight, the more likely it turns off rational voters and pushes them towards Biden. Basically, what you saw happen in midterms just continues to play out as time goes on.
To be clear, the reason Republicans got so upset isn’t because they actually oppose cuts to Medicare and Social Security; they are just mad that Biden said it out loud, because they know the politics surrounding it are bad. Anyone who says it isn’t a long-term GOP goal is lying to themselves. Receipts:
The previous GOP Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, openly said it during the Trump Administration.
Presumed GOP Presidential Candidate, Ron DeSantis, used to support such cuts.
The specific proposal Biden was referring to was floated by Senator Rick Scott right before the midterms.
Similarly, Senator Ron Johnson floated cuts last summer.
Senator Lindsey Graham said the same thing last summer.
When the GOP took the House, they said they would try to use Medicare and Social Security cuts in the debt ceiling negotiations.
The Republican Study Committee - a caucus in the House - explicitly said that the retirement age should be raised to 70 just last summer.
You just have to laugh at this one:
Finally, Trump himself said he would reform Social Security and Medicare during his Presidency.
This is as core of a GOP position as is being pro-life. They will always want to cut Medicare and Social Security, no matter what they say in public. But here is me keeping it 100: If you actually care about debt reduction and think it’s important, there has to be some reform to entitlements. Social Security and Medicare make up 49% of the Federal budget. Defense spending - which Democrats used to say we should cut instead of entitlement programs - takes up 13%, in comparison.
I personally do not care about debt reduction, primarily because the politics surrounding it have shot my cynicism meter through the roof. But if Biden and Democrats are going to go up there and brag about reducing the deficit, they should also concede that if you actually do want to tackle debt reduction, you actually have to do some reduction in spending. Politically, that is a nightmare, and it’s why Republicans reacted with such hostility when Biden pointed it out.
Here is the last point on the State of the Onion, and honestly, this is a shallot-worthy nugget:
I have no words. 2023 is already a weird year.
A quick thought on the big news from last night that Special Counsel Jack Smith subpoenaed Mike Pence. The New York Times broke the story, but I think the framing of it is wrong.
The headline is, “Pence Gets Subpoena From Special Counsel in Jan. 6 Investigation,” and then the dek says this:
The move by Jack Smith, the special counsel, is one of the most aggressive in his investigation of Donald Trump’s efforts to stay in power and is likely to lead to a battle over executive privilege.
I think that is mostly wrong. Pence has made a lot of public statements about what he and Trump discussed prior to January 6th. It is not aggressive to ask Pence to testify to those things in front of a grand jury. If he said them in public, it shouldn’t be a big deal for him to say them under oath (assuming they’re all true). And, because Pence has already made these comments in public, they cannot be covered by executive privilege.
One thing I do think you can take away from Smith’s move is that he is coming to the end of his investigation. You do not subpoena the Vice President if you have a lot of other work to do, and you don’t do it early on because you will probably only get one shot at it. Will Pence comply with the subpoena and cooperate with Smith? My guess is yes, but Pence is also a really difficult guy to predict. He clearly wants to run for President, even if he has the least viable path out of any potential GOP candidate (he does have a path, though).
If he has those ambitions, cooperation with Smith is a non-starter and we could see an ultimately fruitless fight over executive privilege. If he is going to sit out this election and maybe run as a post-Trump GOP candidate in 2028, then cooperating with Smith does him no real harm. More thoughts from a former prosecutor:
This David Brooks piece moved me.
This piece from The Free Press was jarring.
There is more than one George Santos in the House. Meet Anna Paulina Luna.
You will get a Jackal from me early next week, but none on Friday to celebrate the three-day weekend. Then I’ll come back on the 24th. Enjoy the weekend everyone.
It is also truly amazing how during a State of the Union speech, when you’d expect someone who is as mentally incapacitated as Biden to stumble, he didn’t and all the Republicans who say he is brain-dead just went….real quiet.