A day after several Republicans interrupted President Joe Biden’s second State of the Union address with loud jeering, a Democratic leader said he couldn’t “remember a Democrat ever heckling a president in a State of the Union.” But the Democrats have voiced displeasure with a Republican president at such events on several occasions, dating to at least 2005.
“I don’t remember a Democrat ever heckling a president in a State of the Union or any other matter,” Rep. Jim Clyburn told CNN’s Don Lemon in a Feb. 8 interview. The South Carolina Democrat continued: “We may show disassociation with, unappreciated-ness of. We may do it with a smile or not smile, facial expressions. I’ll sometimes do it with my head … bow my head to pray, and I sometimes shake my head to say I don’t agree. But to heckle, I mean, that’s not the way adults act. You let the president have his say. You show your disapproval, but you don’t heckle.”
Clyburn may not consider it heckling, but there have been times when Democrats did not just disagree with a Republican president in silence. We will leave it to readers to decide how the following examples compare to what some Republican lawmakers did during Biden’s address this year.
One of the most notable interruptions by Democrats came during then-President Donald Trump’s last State of the Union address in 2020, when he talked about wanting to sign legislation to lower the price of prescription drugs.
“I’ve been speaking to Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and others in Congress in order to get something on drug pricing done, and done quickly and properly,” Trump said. “I’m calling for bipartisan legislation that achieves the goal of dramatically lowering prescription drug prices. Get a bill on my desk, and I will sign it into law immediately.”
After Trump finished making his request, several Democrats stood, held up three fingers, and repeatedly chanted “H.R. 3!” — a reference to the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. That bill, named for the late Democratic congressman, passed in the Democratic-controlled House in December 2019 but died in the Republican-led Senate.
Trump raised his voice to drown out the chanting and continue his speech.
In addition, the Hill reported that “a handful of Democrats walked out” during Trump’s 2020 address. One of them, then-Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, tweeted that he’d “had enough” of Trump’s speech, which he called “fake” and compared to professional wrestling.
This was also the year that then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was caught on camera tearing up her copy of Trump’s speech as he was concluding his remarks.
A number of Democrats appeared to lightly boo Trump during his 2019 address as he talked about migrants who were headed for the country’s southern border.
“Large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States,” Trump said.
The Hill reported: “The rhetoric earned him groans from Democrats in the House chamber, who have accused Trump of using the caravans to stir up the Republican base.”
The groaning, which was brief, subsided after Pelosi, who was seated behind Trump, raised her hand as an apparent signal for Democrats to quiet down.
There also was booing in 2018, when Trump talked about wanting to limit an immigration program that allows U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, or green-card holders, to sponsor family members for permanent U.S. residency.
NBC News reported: “The president’s comments on immigration proved the most controversial, prompting boos and groans from Democrats, many of whom had invited ‘Dreamers,’ the children of undocumented immigrants, to attend the speech as their guests.”
The article noted that “as Trump slammed ‘open borders’ and ‘chain migration,'” then-Rep. Joe Crowley, a high-ranking Democrat, “was heard saying, ‘Oh, come on!’ while others gestured in disgust.”
Insider also reported that “at least one member of Congress shout[ed] ‘that’s not true,’ when the president outlined his proposed cuts to legal immigration.”
In a 2009 blog post about GOP Rep. Joe Wilson’s notorious “You lie!” moment during former President Barack Obama’s first address to a joint session of Congress, Politico reported: “In 2005, Dems howled, hissed and shouted ‘No!'” when then-President George W. Bush “pushed for Social Security reform” during that year’s speech.
The Politico post included a quote from then-CNN political analyst Bill Schneider, who called the outbursts during Bush’s 2005 speech “unusual.”
“I had never heard it at least at that level before. The Democrats clearly were booing, heckling, saying ‘no’ when the president talked about the crisis in Social Security,” Schneider said, according to a CNN transcript of his commentary.
A February 2005 National Journal report also said that “Democrats broke decorum” by booing Bush twice.
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