Whenever any Republican says that fraudster George Santos doesn’t belong in Congress, that he’s some kind of aberration, I have to laugh. I mean, of course he doesn’t belong in Congress. Neither do most members of the House GOP caucus. But his lies are not unusual in his party; they’re just more outrageous. On the GOP’s continuum of liars, he’s surely one of the most brazen.
But he’s not alone. Lying comes as naturally to many congressional Republicans as breathing. This is still the party of Trump, who proved there’s no consequence for habitual lying—about his businesses, his taxes, his sexual exploits (including alleged assaults), his political corruption, his role in an attempted coup, and of course his loss (by an undeniable 7 million votes) to Joe Biden. But not everyone can be as lucky a liar as Trump (or, so far, George Santos).
The latest example came with Tuesday night’s State of the Union address. When President Biden noted that “some” Republicans want to cut Social Security and Medicare, congressional Republicans erupted in boos and shouts of “liar” and “bullshit.” A lot has been made of Biden’s political skill in baiting the GOP, which has indeed regularly proposed cuts in both programs, into publicly repudiating such an idea. That was big. But even bigger, potentially, was the exposure of a party so used to lying it can’t help itself, even when those lies are easily exposed. This kind of political malpractice might not hurt Trump, but none of these blunderers wear his baggy Teflon suits.
In one of the best television shots on Tuesday night, Senators Rick Scott and Mike Lee, sitting side by side, look incredulous and outraged. But both men have indeed put both programs on the chopping block. So have many others.
Biden broke into a huge grin as the GOP denied what was so easily proven. Would he call out individuals? He did not. He merely said, “Contact my office” for more details. As Republicans continued to object to his “lies” about them, Biden sprang a political trap. “I enjoy conversion,” he said. “As we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books [for cuts] now, right?” He baited most of the Republicans into applauding that line.
Did Biden plan this trap? I don’t know. But given the GOP’s proclivity for lying, he had to know there was a good chance members would deny what was in plain sight. Even in a party known for lying, this blundering was remarkable. Reporters didn’t have to break a sweat searching for receipts.
Rick Scott, as head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, published a “plan” that would sunset all federal programs—including Social Security and Medicare—every five years, forcing Congress to vote to reenact them, thus making them easier to cut, reshape, “privatize” or eliminate. He has confirmed that both popular programs would be included in his plan.
Mike Lee, running for Senate as a Tea Party firebrand in 2010, told Utahans: “It will be my objective to phase out Social Security, to pull it out by the roots and get rid of it…. Medicare and Medicaid need to be pulled up!” He went on: “People who advise me politically always tell me that’s dangerous and I tell them ‘in that case, it’s not worth my running,’” adding: “That’s why I’m doing this,” as in running for Senate. Lee won, three times. Now, he claims Biden took his remarks out of “context;” he didn’t. He also suggests that he’s changed his views on the programs—but there’s no evidence he’s told his constituents about that alleged change of heart. Mike, if getting rid of those programs is why you ran for Senate, shouldn’t you have told voters you’ve changed your mind? When were you lying, in 2010 or now?
“President Biden is lying about me. He lied last night, and he lied again today,” Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson whined on Wednesday morning. Biden wasn’t lying: Johnson has regularly proposed making Social Security and Medicare discretionary programs, potentially subject to annual cuts or changes. But later in the day, Johnson proved Biden told the truth. “I just laid out reality.… [Social Security] is truly a legal Ponzi scheme,” he told Wisconsin Public Radio. “I pointed out that reality, and of course I get blasted.” Poor Ron.
Biden is having a lot of fun with all of this. On Wednesday, he headed to Johnson’s home state, where he hit the senator and others again for their plans to cut the popular programs. Thursday he was in Florida, home of Rick Scott. At his speech in Tampa, Team Biden placed copies of Scott’s plans on every seat in the audience.
“I know a lot of Republicans dream of cutting Social Security and Medicare,” he said, repeating what’s becoming a regular applause line in his speeches. “If that’s your dream, I’m your nightmare.” Cue those Dark Brandon memes.
Oh, and by the way, one of those Republicans who “dream of cutting Social Security and Medicare” is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Running for Congress in 2012, he endorsed GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s plans to privatize and shrink spending on both programs. DeSantis also supported raising the retirement age, insisting that it’s “unsustainable” to let people retire in their late 60s. The Florida governor is widely expected to run against Trump in 2024. Trump’s only redeemable quality is that he has long opposed cuts to these popular programs for seniors—he knows the GOP’s aging base—and you can expect him to hit DeSantis for his stands on those issues, when he finishes calling him a pedophile and a “groomer.”
One measure of how badly this is going for Republicans is that Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, the evil brains of his party, quickly trashed Scott and implicitly backed Biden on the issue. “This is a bad idea,” he told a Kentucky radio host on Wednesday. “I think it will be a challenge for [Scott] to deal with this in his own reelection in Florida, a state with more elderly people than any other state in America.” Scott challenged McConnell for his Senate leadership role and lost badly last year; expect more sparring between the two in the coming months.
So not only did Biden expose much of the GOP as lying about these issues; he also started them fighting among themselves this week. The ritual, notoriously dull State of the Union address is rarely news for more than a day after it happens. This one might go down in history, for a lot of reasons. A key one will be that it exposed the GOP as a party out of control of its own lying, oblivious to how easily those lies can be exposed—and to the political danger in that exposure. Let’s hope it matters to most voters, and even to some Republicans.