- Thursday, March 14, 2024

In politics, there’s a thing called a “Sister Souljah moment,” named for a 1992 incident when then-candidate Bill Clinton criticized the rapper by that name after she had encouraged interracial violence. The idea is that a politician earns respect by challenging something that is otherwise accepted, or at least tolerated, within his own party.

President Biden had a chance at such a moment in his State of the Union address last week, but he blew it.

He blew it completely, and then he blew it again by apologizing for the one thing he did get right.

This all involves Laken Riley, the 22-year-old nursing student who police say was killed while out for a run last month on the campus of the University of Georgia. The man charged with murder in her death is a Venezuelan who entered this country illegally in September 2022, got arrested, and was then released by the Biden administration.

As Mr. Biden delivered his remarks in the House chamber, Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene heckled him from her seat, demanding that he “say her name” — a reference to Riley, whom Mr. Biden had yet to mention publicly.

At first, Mr. Biden appeared to accept the challenge and tried to say the name.

“Lincoln Riley,” he said, getting it wrong by mistakenly naming the head football coach at the University of Southern California. But then it seemed like he was going to seize the moment.

“An innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal,” Mr. Biden said firmly, sounding like he was about to get hawkish on the border.

This is the point at which Mr. Biden could have bucked Democrats’ orthodoxy and condemned the young woman’s slaying with righteous outrage. He could have shaken free of his party’s pro-illegal alien point of view and appealed to a broad cross section of voters.

But instead of standing up like a leader, Mr. Biden buckled because he knows that radicals on the left call the shots in Democratic politics, and he knows that they anger easily.

Going off script, the president decided to downplay Laken Riley’s death, casting it as insignificant compared with killings committed by others.

“But how many thousands being killed by legals?” he asked, almost nonsensically, before turning to the House gallery to express his sympathy to the Riley family, although they were not present in the chamber.

It was like his handlers had prepared him with a retort, but he couldn’t manage the delivery, though it was clear that he was attempting to avoid taking responsibility for his policies that led to the crime.

Overall, it was an angry and divisive speech. Still, despite Mr. Biden’s attempts at theatrical rage, he missed a real opportunity to show independence when he failed to stand up to the radicals who command him.

By the next day, Mr. Biden was inching away from using the word “illegal” as a noun, which probably means someone reminded him that good Democrats are not permitted to say it.

Reporters asked him about the word, and all Mr. Biden could manage was a pathetic “Well, technically, he’s not supposed to be here.”

As bad as that was, it got even worse when Mr. Biden sat down with Jonathan Capeheart of MSNBC and flat-out apologized for saying that an illegal alien was illegal.

“An undocumented person,” Mr. Biden said. “I shouldn’t have used ‘illegal.’”

He then dishonestly conflated legal immigrants throughout U.S. history with criminal illegal aliens, obscuring the fact that the real issue was one specific murder suspect.

“I’m not gonna treat any of these people with disrespect,” he said. “Look, they built the country.”

At the end of the exchange, Mr. Capeheart raised the “illegal” issue again: “So, you regret using that word?”

“Yes,” the president said.

After the groveling made headlines, White House advisers denied that Mr. Biden had apologized, which is odd because seeking forgiveness from the left was obviously why they had arranged the interview in the first place.

Presidents often try to ride the State of the Union speech for a while, traveling the country to repeat the messages to increase support in battleground states. Mr. Biden, however, spent nearly a week litigating one word, pleasing no one at all. It’s little wonder that viewers rated his performance lower than any other recent State of the Union and that polls show him, if anything, becoming even more unpopular than he already was.

In short, it’s been a disaster — the opposite of a Sister Souljah moment since Mr. Biden displayed his weakness and fealty to the radical left. It’s the sort of thing that, down the road, you might point to and say, “This is when we knew he was in real trouble.”

• Tim Murtaugh is a Washington Times columnist, founder and principal of Line Drive Public Affairs LLC, and co-host of “The Line Drive Podcast.”

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