Pundits called Dems' reaction during Bush address "unprecedented," but Republicans booed Clinton


Media figures have falsely claimed that Democrats' audible disapproval of President Bush's misleading claim in his February 2 State of the Union address that Social Security will be "exhausted and bankrupt" in 2042 was "unprecedented." In fact, Republicans routinely booed and hissed during President Clinton's State of the Union addresses.

Many hosts and pundits suggested the Democrats' reaction was the first of its kind:

  • TED KOPPEL (ABC host): When the president talked about the bankruptcy of Social Security, there were clearly some Democrats on the floor who thought that that was taking it too far. And they did something that, apparently, no one at this table has ever heard before. They booed. [ABC, Nightline, 2/2/05; Koppel's panel consisted of former Bush adviser Mary Matalin, former Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein, and former Clinton speechwriter Michael Waldman]
  • JOHN ROBERTS (CBS White House correspondent): At a couple points in this address, it looked more like the British Parliament than the United States Congress. I've never heard the minority party shout at the president during the State of the Union address. [CBS, post-speech coverage, 2/2/05]
  • JOE SCARBOROUGH (former U.S. representative (R-FL) and MSNBC host): After the Democrats booed and hissed, Republicans were on the floor saying, you know, we never once did that to Clinton. So every time he would talk about Social Security, the roars got a little louder. And they got behind their president. [MSNBC, Hardball, 2/2/05]
  • BOB BARR (former U.S. representative (R-GA) and CNN contributor): It will be a very, very difficult battle as we saw by the unprecedented and, I think, highly improper virtual booing of the president when he simply said that the system is going to be bankrupt and the time is now to fix it. [CNN, Inside Politics, 2/3/05]
  • JOE WATKINS (radio host and CNN substitute host): Did you hear it? Certainly not the polite protocol usually practiced when a president speaks to Congress. If a Democrat one day delivers a State of the Union address, I hope the Republicans won't lower themselves to such a disrespectful level. I hope last night's behavior by a few lawmakers doesn't set a new precedent, that both parties can agree to remain civil, even when voicing disagreements.


    PAUL BEGALA (CNN host): Let me correct your history -- 1993, I was with President Bill Clinton in that House chamber when he addressed a joint session of Congress. And Republicans heckled him when he cited Congressional Budget Office statistics about the deficit. [CNN, Crossfire, 2/3/05]

  • JOHN GIBSON (FOX News host): Maryanne Marsh, what did you think of those audible jeers, boos, for the president? It sounded a little like the House of Commons: that grumbling that comes from the back-benchers when they don't like something [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair said. That isn't very common for state of the union speeches, is it?

    MARYANNE MARSH (Democratic strategist): I don't ever remember hearing it, and was very surprised. But I have to say at least the good news is the Democrats are fighting and they're on offense. And they're more united than they've ever been against George Bush and the Republicans. [FOX News, The Big Story with John Gibson, 2/3/05]

In addition to the 1993 State of the Union, during which, as Begala pointed out, Republicans heckled Clinton, they also voiced their disapproval in three other Clinton State of the Union addresses, which were presumably attended by then-members of Congress Scarborough and Barr:

  • "Clinton's proposal to expand Medicare to allow Americans as young as 55 to buy into the system drew shouts of "no" and some boos from Republicans during his speech." [Chicago Tribune, 1/28/98]
  • "Only once did they unmistakably and collectively show their disapproval -- when Clinton spoke disparagingly of a GOP-sponsored constitutional amendment to balance the budget. Many Republicans hissed and some booed." [Los Angeles Times, 2/5/97]
  • "The upheaval wrought by the Republican election landslide was visible throughout the president's State of the Union address -- from the moment Speaker Newt Gingrich took the gavel to the striking silence that often greeted Clinton from the GOP. At one point, Republicans even booed. About 20 of them left as Clinton went on and on for an hour and 20 minutes." [Associated Press, 1/24/95]

As Media Matters for America has noted, the assertion that Social Security will be "exhausted and bankrupt" in 2042 is misleading, since Bush's own Social Security board of trustees reported in 2004 that "[p]resent tax rates would be sufficient to pay 73 percent of scheduled benefits" after 2042 and "68 percent of scheduled benefits in 2078."

2005 State of the Union, State of the Union Addresses
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