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Speaker Johnson: GOP hecklers responding to ‘overly partisan’ State of the Union

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said GOP lawmakers who heckled President Biden during his State of the Union address Thursday evening were responding to an “overly partisan speech.”

A handful of Republicans shouted out at Biden throughout his remarks in the House chamber, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), whose yells prompted an unusual back-and-forth between herself and the president about Laken Riley, the Georgia student who police say was killed by a man who had illegally crossed the border.

Asked about that exchange, Johnson said people listening to the address grew “very emotional” because of the “overly partisan” nature of Biden’s remarks.

“People got very emotional tonight because it was an overly partisan speech and it was filled, full of information that is just objectively not true. And so you saw the visceral reaction, I think, from people in the chamber and I suspect that a lot of people at home were feeling that same frustration,” Johnson told reporters.

The exchange between Biden and Greene broke out when the president discussed the border, at one point prompting the Georgia Republican to yell “it’s about Laken Riley,” and others to shout “say her name.” Biden responded, holding up a Laken Riley pin he had received from Greene.

“Laken Riley, an innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal,” Biden said. “To her parents I say my heart goes out to you having lost children myself. I understand.”

Ahead of Thursday’s speech, the Speaker had urged members of his conference to maintain decorum during the president’s remarks, a request that came after last year’s State of the Union speech saw a large amount of heckling from GOP lawmakers.

Johnson said he felt that his pleas were “mostly” followed Thursday.

“We emphasized decorum. I think mostly that was respected tonight, and that was a good thing for the country,” he said.

Biden’s speech, which ran for just more than one hour, was a largely political address, drawing contrasts between himself and former President Trump on an array of policy issues including foreign policy and border security.

Republicans of all stripes criticized the political nature of Biden’s speech, 

“I thought it was a partisan stump speech, not a dignified State of the Union address,” moderate Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told The Hill, calling it “the worst State of the Union address I have heard.”

“Because it was partisan,” he added. “It was like a campaign speech you expect to hear two weeks before the election. It was not unifying at all.”

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), the chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, described Biden’s remarks as “an angry, elderly gentleman with a poor memory yelling at people to get off his lawn.”

“It really was a terrible tone the whole speech. It was certainly divisive,” he continued. “He claimed when he ran the first time he’d be the uniter in chief. He’s been anything but; he certainly continues to be the divider in chief.”

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