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Biden’s GOP hecklers vent their fury over the border — and more

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Speaker Mike Johnson urged his raucous conference to stay well-behaved during Thursday’s State of the Union. But President Joe Biden didn’t even make it to the dais before his first tense run-in with a House conservative.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), sporting a red Make America Great Again hat and a red blazer, approached the president as he walked into the chamber for the address — seeking to hand him a button paying homage to Laken Riley, a 22-year-old college student who was allegedly murdered by an undocumented immigrant in Georgia last month. Republicans have used the killing as a cudgel against the president’s immigration policies, with several donning buttons bearing her name.

Greene held up her phone to record their exchange on the House floor. She told Biden: “Laken Riley.” He brushed off the encounter, telling the firebrand Georgian that “I know how to say the name,” in a video she later posted on X.

She might not have expected that the president, in an unscripted departure from his remarks, would hold up that Laken Riley button in the middle of his speech. As Greene heckled him from the floor, Biden said that Riley was killed by an “illegal,” a politically charged term — particularly when used as a noun without the word “immigrant.”

“I was just shocked at how insincere he was, and he didn’t even pronounce Laken Riley’s name correct,” Greene said after the speech. “He said ‘Lincoln.’ And he just didn’t care.”

Some progressives who have chafed at Biden’s pivot to the center on immigration, including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), also made their disappointment with the moment clear: “That was wrong. No human being is illegal, and even if we get flustered we should just never use those words,” Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.) told POLITICO.

Though he did say Riley’s name, Biden’s remarks on the border Thursday night drew the most sustained heckling and a rain of boos from a broad swath of Republicans. Beyond Greene, several GOP lawmakers told Biden to “say her name” or yelling “H.R. 2,” the identifier of their sweeping proposal for stricter border policies.

Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.) briefly stood holding a sign that read Riley’s name. Earlier in the speech, when Biden criticized his predecessor Donald Trump’s record, one House Republican in the back corner of the chamber shouted: “Lies.”

Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-Wis.) said later that he had interrupted the speech by yelling about lies: “What he said there in the State of the Union — a tremendous amount of it was just flat-out fabrication,” Van Orden told reporters.

Greene added a heckle of her own as Biden discussed tax policy, referring to the president’s son as she yelled: “Tell Hunter to pay his taxes.” As Greene ramped up her outburst during the speech’s second half, her fellow Republicans were overheard trying to shush her.

Then there was the silent pushback of Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas), who stood in the back of the chamber throughout Biden’s speech, towering above his seated colleagues, wearing a shirt with Trump’s face on it alongside the words: “Never surrender.”

Some Republicans decided to cut out of the speech altogether. Rep. Greg Murphy (R-N.C.) said he quietly left early, telling POLITICO he didn’t want to listen to the president “get up there and spout lies.”

Thanks to the House GOP’s leadership chaos last year and Democrats’ loss of the majority in 2022, Biden has spoken alongside a different speaker during each of his past three State of the Unions.

Throughout the remarks, Johnson oscillated between silent smirking or nodding and pointed decisions about whether to applaud in reaction to Biden. When Biden slammed the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, the speaker declined to clap with Democrats.

Despite the bitter blowback during the border portion of Biden’s remarks, his speech didn’t entirely lack for bipartisan moments. The president’s remarks on Ukraine earned a bipartisan standing ovation from Republicans, even as proposals to give new money to Kyiv have sharply divided House Republicans.

While no lawmakers on the left jeered Biden, some still used the speech to telegraph their discontent with his Israel policy. Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Summer Lee (D-Pa.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), all outspoken critics of Israel’s war in Gaza, wore keffiyehs, the traditional Palestinian scarf.

Reps. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) and Greg Casar (D-Texas) were among progressive lawmakers wearing a “ceasefire” pin calling for a cessation of hostilities in the Israel-Hamas war.

Tlaib noticeably did not stand and applaud along with other Democrats when Biden said Hamas could end the conflict. And she and Bush held up signs saying “lasting ceasefire now” as the president spoke.

Ursula Perano contributed.