During last week’s 2023 State of the Union address, President Joe Biden correctly said, “Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans — some Republicans — want Medicare and Social Security to sunset.” This claim was met with jeers from Republicans in attendance, some of whom called out that the president was lying despite the GOP’s decadeslong hostility to the benefits programs and the recently reported Republican strategy of using the social safety net as a political cudgel during the self-inflicted debt ceiling crisis if they were to control the Congress after the 2022 midterms.
The president’s claim is bolstered by multiple GOP politicians’ past comments and proposals aimed at cutting entitlement programs. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has called for the age eligibility of Social Security to be raised and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who expressed indignation at Biden’s comment during his speech, has previously said it is his “objective to phase out Social Security.”
Perhaps the most blatant endorsement of cutting these entitlement programs is a policy blueprint released by National Republican Senatorial Committee head Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL). Titled “An 11 Point Plan to Rescue America,” the plan was released in February 2022 and outlined conservative priorities should the GOP win a legislative majority during the following midterm elections. Scott’s proposal not only heeded to radical conservative culture wars and called for increased taxes for the bottom half of the country, but most notably, it called for “all federal legislation” — including Social Security and Medicare — to sunset after five years, forcing Congress to pass it again if it is “worth keeping.”
Like members of Congress, Fox News hosts, personalities, and guests reacted with outrage to the president’s comments, decrying that Biden was lying and “gaslighting” Republicans and the American people. But in doing so, these personalities conveniently forgot not only the GOP’s yearslong attacks against Social Security and Medicare, they also ignored that in February and March 2022, some Fox personalities rallied around Scott’s radicalism and continued to praise his vision for conservative politics throughout the year.
On the day that Scott released his proposal, prime-time host Sean Hannity praised the senator, saying, “I want to applaud you,” adding a littler later, “I'd like to see the House and the Senate come together on these issues, make these promises to the American people, get elected and then fulfill those promises.” In May 2022, Hannity defended Scott’s plan after Biden called it the “ultra MAGA agenda.” He raved, “Ultra MAGA, you mean, the one that gave us prosperity second to none, secure borders, … trade deals, free and fair for the first time with all of our trading partners all over the world, … record low unemployment for every demographic group. The lowest gas prices we've seen in decades.”
In March, host Laura Ingraham also hosted Scott and touted his plan, calling it “unabashedly populist.” She then failed to confront Scott about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel’s (R-KY) criticism of Scott’s intention to sunset benefits. Instead, she argued McConnell’s opposition came from concern “about his top spot on the GOP totem pole.” Ingraham hosted Scott again in July 2022 and told him, “One of the things that I loved about your blueprint that you laid out — and you came on the show and talked about it — it was very specific issue after issue.” In October 2022, she praised his efforts leading up to the midterm election.
Even though Tucker Carlson indirectly suggested the day after Biden’s speech that some Republicans may be aiming to cut Social Security, Fox continued the charade the next few days. Here is a non-exhaustive list of Fox figures and guests denying Republican efforts to reduce Social Security:
- Hannity ignored his past praise for Scott’s plan and the times he hosted the senator on his show to tout it, instead claiming that Republicans “are not proposing it and what he [Biden] said was a lie.” [Fox News, Hannity, 2/8/23]
- Fox contributor Raymond Arroyo said, “You can't attack the majority of the House of Representatives, lie about their positions on not only Social Security but border enforcement.” [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 2/8/23]
- Fox & Friends First co-host Todd Pirro claimed that Biden’s comment about some Republicans wanting to sunset Social Security and Medicare “is a lie and needs to be stated as such every single time a Democrat, Joe Biden, brings it up.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends First, 2/8/23]
- Chairperson of the Republican National Committee and frequent Fox guest Ronna McDaniel claimed that Biden’s speech showed the Democrats’ “blueprint” that “it’s going to be lies, fear and blame. They are going to take those lies to the American people. We saw a little bit of that with Social Security and Medicare — trying to scare people that we’re going to cut those things. That’s absolutely not true.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends First, 2/8/23]
- Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy admitted that Scott had made “a suggestion about sunsetting Social Security and Medicare … a while back.” But he went on to say that “it’s not true” to claim Republicans want to sunset Social Security, adding, “You could tell that was inserted in the speech because he wanted to bait the Republicans.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 2/8/23]
- Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt praised the Republicans who heckled Biden during his speech saying, “It was nice to see them be able to stand up for themselves.” Earhardt also claimed that what Biden “was saying wasn’t truthful. The Republicans aren't going to take away Social Security, aren’t going to take away Medicare. You ask any of them, and they all say the same thing.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 2/8/23]
- Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich claimed that Biden’s “attempt to attack the Republicans on Medicare and Social Security” was “totally dishonest.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 2/8/23]
- Anchor Bret Baier suggested that Biden’s comment backfired on him as he “walked it back a little bit, and said ‘OK, so we're all on the same page here.’ He added that the speechwriter who wrote those comments “probably has to go back to the drawing board after that visual of everybody standing up and saying, ‘We’re not going to touch it.’” [Fox News, The Faulkner Focus, 2/8/23]
- Outnumbered co-host Kayleigh McEnany defended the representatives who heckled Biden after his comment on Social Security and Medicare, saying, ”That was a cause for being boisterous because it was an outright lie from President Biden. … Republicans needed to be boisterous to get the point across that it’s an abject lie from the president.” [Fox News, Outnumbered, 2/8/23]
- The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld compared Biden’s accurate comments that “some Republicans” want to sunset Social Security and Medicare to a hypothetical “Republican president saying, ‘You Democrats want to kill children with a dangerous vaccine.’" [Fox News, The Five, 2/8/23]
- The Five co-host Jeanine Pirro claimed she is “so sick and tired of hearing” Democrats call out Republicans for their attacks on Social Security and Medicare, suggesting that it’s Biden and Democrats who are “lying” and “gaslighting” the Republicans by doing so. [Fox News, The Five, 2/8/23]
- Former White House senior policy adviser and white nationalist Stephen Miller blatantly claimed, “Nobody is touching Medicare, nobody is touching Social Security.” [Fox News, Hannity, 2/8/23]
- Fox & Friends First co-host Todd Pirro claimed, “No Republican wants to cut Social Security and Medicare. Yet, Democrats [are] still gaslighting, saying, ‘Oh no, Republicans want to kill your grandma and take away your healthcare.’” [Fox News, Fox & Friends First, 2/9/23]
- Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Pete Hegseth claimed, Social Security has insolvency problems. … Changes will have to be made eventually at great political risk in whoever attempts to make those changes. A sunset clause makes so much sense that Democrats have to be against it.” [Fox News, The Faulkner Focus, 2/9/23]
- Fox News chief political analyst Brit Hume claimed that Biden’s comments amounted to “demagoguery,” saying, “If you dare say — particularly as a Republican — that you want to really do something about it [Social Security] — maybe raise the retirement age, or maybe curb the benefits a bit, or whatever — all hell breaks loose and you’re accused of trying to, you know, push granny off a cliff.” [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 2/9/23]