White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre spoke to reporters aboard Air Force One Wednesday, addressing questions about President Biden’s State of the Union address.
Jean-Pierre was asked about a ‘flash point’ in the speech during which Republicans heckled Biden over his claim that many Republicans are seeking to end Medicare and Social Security.
Jean-Pierre said the White House stands by Biden’s address and that GOP lawmakers attempt to ‘speak out of both sides of their mouths’ on the issue.
‘Just a couple of things that I just want to lay out, and we want to be very real here because there are some facts that we have seen the last couple of years — not even the last couple of months — which is members of the Republican caucus have repeatedly for many, many years tried to cut Medicare and Social Security, to privatize it, raise the retirement age,’ the press secretary said.
‘They had actually voted on that and put it on the chopping block. That’s what we’ve seen them do for years. And they always tried to speak out of both sides of their mouths.’
Jean-Pierre went on to accuse specific Republicans of duplicity on the issue, calling out Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and claiming Biden put the GOP ‘on defense.’
‘That’s what they’ve done, trying to cut these programs Americans pay into their entire lives when they think they can get away with it,’ the press secretary continued. ‘That’s what we’re talking about here. Mike Lee, who protested last night. But there is literally video … saying he wants to tear Medicare and Social Security out by the roots. This is something that Mike Lee said.’
Video from February 2010 shows Sen. Mike Lee on the campaign trail telling an audience, ‘It will be my objective to phase out Social Security. To pull it out by the roots and get rid of it.’
Lee’s office disputed Jean-Pierre’s framing of the 2010 clip in a statement to Fox News.
‘In that address and in countless other discussions on the topic, Sen. Lee has reiterated his belief that we have a moral obligation to honor commitments made to Social Security recipients,’ the statement said. ‘He supports these commitments as strongly now as he did when he first entered the Senate.’
In the same 2010 video, Lee said, ‘Those who are current beneficiaries, those who have retired and are currently receiving those benefits — their benefits have to be left untouched, unchanged.’
Lee went on to say that ‘those who will retire in the next few years’ would also need to be assured of their benefits.
After Lee, Jean-Pierre pivoted to Johnson, saying, ‘We are headed to Wisconsin, as I just mentioned, home of Sen. Ron Johnson — which you heard the president talk about a lot during the midterms — who authored a bill to put these programs on the chopping blocks in Congress and in Congress every single year. That’s what he said.’
In August 2022, Johnson suggested that Social Security and Medicare should no longer exist as federal entitlement programs. Johnson specified that he believed the programs should instead be approved annually as discretionary spending.
‘If you qualify for the entitlement, you just get it no matter what the cost,’ Johnson said at the time. ‘And our problem in this country is that more than 70% of our federal budget, of our federal spending, is all mandatory spending. It’s on automatic pilot. It never, you just don’t do proper oversight. You don’t get in there and fix the programs going bankrupt.’
In an interview after the comment, Johnson denied wanting to end Social Security or Medicare.
Johnson told Fox Digital in an exclusive statement on Wednesday, ‘President Biden is lying about me. He lied last night, and he lied again today. I never suggested putting Medicare & Social Security on the chopping block. In fact, it was Joe Biden himself who suggested freezing these programs.’
‘In 1975, while Biden was serving in the Senate, he put forward a bill requiring all federal programs to sunset after four years,’ he continued. ‘Biden doubled down on his legislation in the 1990s, saying that his bill would affect Social Security.’
‘I want to save these programs. I have simply pointed out the greatest threat to these programs is out of control debt and deficits. We need a process to prioritize spending and decease our deficits,’ he concluded.