If the media are debating whether Republicans want to slash two of the country's most popular federal programs—Social Security and Medicare—it's a bad day for the GOP.
So the day after President Joe Biden lured Republicans into that very debate Tuesday during his State of the Union address, the president began naming exactly which Republicans are on record in favor of cutting the benefits—a step he had declined to take during his speech.
"It's being proposed by individuals," Biden had originally said Tuesday night, as Republicans vehemently denied the president's assertion. "I'm not — politely not naming them, but it's being proposed by some of you."
Biden, speaking from the dais Tuesday, handily won that verbal volley with Republicans. They ultimately clapped and cheered as he declared "unanimity" around the idea of keeping the programs intact.
But Republicans' boisterous denials about eyeing cuts was sure to draw more scrutiny over the next 24 hours, and the president was happy to help.
Touting his economic plan Wednesday during a trip to the LIUNA Training Center in DeForest, Wisconsin, President Biden waded into the Social Security row once again to set things straight.
After some Republicans had called him a "Liar!" over the Social Security assertion, Biden told the workers, "I remind you that Rick Scott from Florida, the guy who ran the U.S. Senate campaign, has a plan. I got his brochure right here."
Opening the brochure, Biden read a section that proposed sunsetting "all federal legislation" every five years. "If the law is worth keeping," Biden continued reading, "Congress can pass it again.”
"Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid," Biden noted, emphasizing that Scott's plan would apply to all three programs.
Then Biden reminded the training center crowd that their own Senator, Ron Johnson, backs putting both programs on the chopping block "every year."
Finally, Biden moved on to Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who looked like he was having a cow Tuesday night as Biden called out the Republican scheme. Biden explained that someone later showed him video of Lee telling voters it would be his objective "to phase out Social Security, pull it up by its roots, get rid of it,” Biden noted, repeating Lee's quote from the 2010 video almost verbatim.
"It sounds pretty clear to me, how about you?" Biden asked the crowd. "They sure didn't like me calling them on it."
Biden went on to note that he would veto any such effort to roll back the programs that have become a lifeline for so many seniors. The good news, Biden added, was the fact that it appeared as though Republicans agreed to take cuts to the programs off the table.
"Remember what I said? I said, 'So you’re not going to cut it, huh?'” Biden recounted, revisiting the deal he appeared to strike with Republicans in real time on the House floor.
"I said, 'Okay, we got a deal.' Well, I sure hope that’s true. I’ll believe it when I see it and their budget is laid down with their cuts they’re proposing," Biden said.
That's a whole lot of mileage Biden milked from the Tuesday night exchange, not to mention the fact that he was milking it in front of union workers in a critical swing state.
"These benefits belong to you, the American worker," he told the crowd. "You earned it. And I will not allow anyone to cut them — not today, not tomorrow, not ever — period."
So Biden won round No. 1 on Tuesday, on live television. Then in round No. 2 on Wednesday, Biden revisited the entire affair during a visit to Wisconsin to tout his economic agenda—only this time he named names. That set off round 3, in which the Senators he named sought to deny their previous comments.
Sen. Ron Johnson sent a statement to the Washington Post asserting that Biden "is lying about me. I want to save these programs. I have simply pointed out the greatest threat to these programs is out-of-control debt and deficits."
Lee's spokesperson didn't respond to an inquiry from the Post, though Lee posted a video in which he claimed, "The President of the United States looked us right in the eye and mischaracterized what half the people in the chamber believe."
The White House also provided the Post (and presumably other outlets) with a list of Republicans who support targeting the programs. It includes Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the Senate GOP's No. 2.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was forced to triage the situation Wednesday on Fox & Friends, saying that he has “said it many times before: Social Security and Medicare are off the table.”
Again, any day Republicans spend trying to convince voters they don't really want to cut two of the most popular federal programs in the country, is a good day for Democrats.
We're chatting with one of our favorite fellow election analysts on this week's episode of The Downballot, Kyle Kondik of Sabato's Crystal Ball. Kyle helped call races last year for CBS and gives us a rare window inside a TV network's election night decision desk, which literally has a big button to call control of the House—that no one got to press. Kyle also dives into his new race ratings for the 2024 Senate map, including why he thinks Joe Manchin's unlikely tight-rope act might finally come to an end.
In their Weekly Hits, co-hosts David Nir and David Beard recap big developments in two Senate contests: Rep. Adam Schiff's entry into the race to succeed Dianne Feinstein, and the GOP's unexpected show of unity in the open-seat election in Indiana. They also dissect the first poll of this year's hotly contested race for governor in Kentucky and highlight another 2023 battle that shouldn't get overlooked: the race for a vacant seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.