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Harris says Biden was "in command" during State of the Union despite GOP "gamesmanship"

Vice President Harris on State of the Union
Vice President Kamala Harris on Biden's State of the Union address 07:58

Washington — Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday praised President Biden for being "in command" during his State of the Union address despite "gamesmanship" from some Republicans in attendance, who heckled the president at points in his speech.

"There sadly tends to be a theatrical element to that evening as time has gone on," Harris said in an interview with "CBS Mornings." "The president was in command and he focused on the American people as opposed to necessarily the gamesmanship that was being played in the room."

Mr. Biden delivered his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, during which he appealed to Republicans, now in control of the House, to work with their Democratic colleagues to pass legislation to create more jobs, improve health care and grow the economy. 

The president repeatedly urged Congress to "finish the job," though he was met with vocal opposition from some GOP lawmakers who loudly interrupted and jeered the president at points in his speech.

The most fierce pushback to Mr. Biden came when he said some Republicans want to cut Social Security and Medicare, a reference to Florida Sen. Rick Scott's proposal last year for all federal legislation to sunset every five years. GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia stood from her seat to shout "liar" while other Republicans booed the president.

In an earlier interview with "CBS Mornings," South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said the response from both Republicans and Democrats to Mr. Biden's speech was a reflection of today's political environment, in which the divisions between the two parties have deepened.

"The tone of the State of the Union speeches at least in the modern era, in which we live politically — there is more, I would say, activity in the chamber probably than there used to be," he said. "But I think that probably characterizes a little bit of the change in our politics."

Thune said lawmakers today are more "outspoken," and the addresses before the joint sessions of Congress are a "good example of that."

Still, the Republican senator said Mr. Biden's speech effectively served as a "soft launch" for his 2024 reelection bid.

"There was a lot of red meat that he threw out there, and the reaction in the chamber was probably pretty predictable," Thune said. "Democrats were very boisterous in their support and Republicans of course, not so much."

Harris, who was seated behind Mr. Biden on the rostrum, defended the president Wednesday morning and praised the legislation enacted in the first two years of his first term with support from both parties, citing the bipartisan infrastructure law and gun safety measure.

"The president started his talk by talking about with pride the partisan work that has happened between Democrats and Republicans," she said Wednesday.

While the president laid out a laundry list of legislative accomplishments and unilateral action he has taken, a CBS News poll published Tuesday found that 53% of Americans feel Mr. Biden's policies are making the economy worse rather than better.

Asked what the Biden administration can do to better demonstrate to voters the impact of its policies, Harris said the nation is still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic that upended many aspects of American life, including education and the economy.

"The effects of all of that linger. We look at the price of eggs or milk and we know that there's still work to be done, but that's the point the president was making," she said. "Our administration, and he is the leader of it, is fully aware of that."

Harris said addressing the fallout from the pandemic was the driving force behind some of the Biden administration's policies, such as capping the cost of insulin for Medicare beneficiaries at $35 per month and setting an annual cap of $2,000 on out-of-pocket costs for Medicare patients enrolled in drug plans. 

"They deserve to know that we are actually presenting solutions to some of the everyday burdens that families face, and that's the work that is happening," she said. "But there's more work to be done and he said that clearly." 

In the first two years of his presidency, Democrats' control of both the House and Senate was crucial to Mr. Biden's ability to enact many aspects of his domestic policy agenda. With Republicans now in the House majority, and the White House bracing for a number of investigations, any legislative proposals must garner bipartisan support in order to land on the president's desk.

Thune said he believes one area of agreement may be on police reform, though earlier attempts to reach consensus on a plan to make changes to policing collapsed.

"I very much hope that we can get something done there," he said, adding that Republicans and Democrats agree on 70 to 80% of the issues around police reform. "What we ought to do is try to find that common ground and see if we can actually execute on getting some reforms across the finish line."

Mr. Biden urged Congress to "come together and finish the job on police reform" in his speech after he acknowledged the parents of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who died last month after he was brutally beaten by police officers in Memphis.

"Let's commit ourselves to make the words of Tyre's mom true: Something good must come from this," he said.

The vice president also defended Mr. Biden's handling of a Chinese spy balloon that was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean after drifting across the U.S. for several days and the documents marked classified that were discovered at the president's Wilmington, Delaware, home and a former office that dated back to his time as vice president.

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