7 memorable responses and reactions to the State of the Union
The State of the Union address is an opportunity for a president to lay out their policy agenda, laud their own accomplishments and create a sense of national unity.
But there’s often another person or scene that dominates headlines and drags attention away from the speech itself.
Here’s eight of the most memorable reactions and responses over the last 15 years.
2022: Boebert heckles Biden
Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., left, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., right, scream “Build the Wall” as President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Washington. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool via AP)
Last year’s distraction came from freshman Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), who yelled at President Biden while he discussed how burning waste led to cancer and death for many service members — including his son.
“A cancer that would put them in a flag-draped coffin,” Biden said. “I know —”
“You put them in, 13 of them!” Boebert interrupted.
She was referencing an attack in Afghanistan which killed 13 Americans in 2020, but the disruption was met with shock and gasps from both halves of the chamber.
“One of those soldiers was my son, Major Beau Biden,” Biden finished.
Boebert and then-ally Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) also recited “build the wall!” during an immigration section of Biden’s speech. She refused to apologize afterward.
2020: Pelosi tears up Trump’s speech
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., tears her copy of President Donald Trump’s s State of the Union address after he delivered it to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. Vice President Mike Pence is at left. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Just weeks after the House impeached then-President Donald Trump for the first time, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) marked the end of his speech with a symbolic protest of her own. As Republicans stood to applaud Trump, Pelosi stood and tore her copy of Trump’s speech in half.
She later called it the “courteous thing to do,” given Trump’s actions. Trump later claimed that Pelosi’s actions were “very illegal.”
Republicans denounced the Speaker for tearing up the speech, but nothing came from their calls for her to be censured.
2019: Pelosi’s sarcastic clapping
President Donald Trump turns to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., as he delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence watches, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Tearing up Trump’s speech wasn’t Pelosi’s first time making a scene at Trump’s State of the Union. The year before, as Trump denounced “revenge politics,” Pelosi stood and gave him a pointed, sarcastic clap.
It was the memorable image of the 2019 speech, so much so that it became a viral meme and a move she repeated multiple times over the following months for laughs.
2015: Ruth Bader Ginsburg falls asleep
In this July 31, 2014, file photo, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is seen in her chambers in at the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
Seated front and center, it’s difficult for the Supreme Court justices not to be the center of attention in crowd shots during the State of the Union address. In an unintentional distraction, then-81-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg nodded off during President Obama’s speech in 2015.
She later said that she wasn’t “100 percent sober,” blaming a bottle of “very fine California wine,” provided by Justice Anthony Kennedy at a dinner prior to the speech for her drowsiness.
2015 wasn’t the first time Ginsburg fell asleep during a State of the Union address. Two years before, Ginsburg again blamed a bottle of Kennedy’s wine for nodding off during the 2013 address.
2014: Biden connects with the crowd
As Vice President, Joe Biden sat directly behind President Obama for his State of the Union speeches. But Biden occasionally stole attention from his president, especially during the 2014 speech.
At one point, Biden was caught making finger guns, pointing and laughing at someone in the crowd — another moment which was made into a meme.
It was never discovered specifically who Biden was pointing to, but he revealed to late night host Seth Meyers weeks later that a “senior senator” had chastised him on his way to the speech, asking Biden not to stand and clap at every one of Obama’s points.
“And then I counted, 17 times this particular senator stood up in front of the president, so I went like this (finger guns) to point to him,” Biden told Meyers. “Talk about a suck up! This guy was telling me ‘don’t stand up’ and, boom, he was the first guy up.”
2013: Marco Rubio needs his water
Following every State of the Union address since 1966, it has been tradition for the opposing party to give a response to the president’s speech directly after. This year, it will be delivered by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R-Ark.).
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was 2013’s speaker for the GOP, and delivered a truly memorable response — and not in a good way.
The freshman senator made headlines after he repeatedly touched his lips, gasping for water, and awkwardly sipped from a comically small bottle mid-speech.
The water gaffe didn’t help what was received as a mediocre and poorly-delivered speech, but it didn’t spoil Rubio’s political career. He went on to run an unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2016 and get re-elected on a wide margin in 2022.
Rubio has repeatedly embraced the water gaffe as self-deprecating humor. His PAC used it to fundraise in the days after the speech in 2013, and he’s joked to future State of the Union response speakers and even former President Trump to avoid his water mistakes.
2010: Alito shrugs off Obama
Supreme Court justices generally limit their opinions to their official rulings. But that wasn’t the case with Justice Samuel Alito in 2010, after President Obama criticized the court’s recent decision in Citizens United v. FEC. The ruling found that political contributions equated free speech, and opened the floodgates for corporate money to fund American elections.
During Obama’s remarks denouncing the ruling, Alito repeatedly shook his head and mouthed “not true.” It was a surprising move from the usually-silent Supreme Court. Both Obama’s criticism and Alito’s reaction received mixed responses from both sides of the aisle.
2009: Joe Wilson to Obama: ‘You lie!’
One infamous interruption of a Presidential speech wasn’t at a State of the Union address at all, but during President Obama’s first address to a joint congress. The speeches serve the same purpose as a State of the Union address, and marks the president’s first speech to congress in their term.
While selling a healthcare reform bill that, after months of changes, became the Affordable Care Act, Obama noted that undocumented immigrants would not have access to healthcare under the plan. But Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) thought it was doubtful Obama would follow through with that promise, and yelled out, “you lie!”
The remark shocked Congress and the president, who told reporters years later that his “first instinct” was to “smack this guy on the head.” Wilson only received a harsh glare from Obama, Biden and Pelosi behind him, but the event has left a shadow hovering over his career ever since.
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