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At 81, Joe Biden Is Still The Last Guy To Leave The Party

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden did what he had to do in his State of the Union address on Thursday night. And then, it was party time.

Just seconds after stepping down from the dais in the House chamber, as most news networks pulled their cameras away, Biden was playfully saluting people in the audience and shouting out jokes.

“Hey Bobby! I didn’t embarrass you, did I?” he said to laughs from someone nearby. It was possibly Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who Biden mentioned in his national address.

The House chamber was packed with so many of his old friends, former colleagues, his judicial and executive appointments, and even critics who wanted to talk to him. And Biden, all smiles, was here for it. He spent the next half an hour talking to anyone in earshot, taking selfies, telling stories and weighing in on climate change, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, border security, reproductive rights and whatever other policy topics people threw his way.

HuffPost caught most of these details by watching bits of livestreams that were still going and hearing him on hot mics.

“Thank you for mentioning climate change,” said Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), the first person to get to Biden when he stepped into the crowd.

“That’s why I’m working so hard,” Biden replied, referencing Democrats taking back the House. “I’m going to do whatever I can.”

“You were the Baptist preacher tonight!” chimed in Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.).

Biden leaned in and started telling a story about someone in “Del-a-WARRR,” or Delaware, who offered to campaign for him but only in certain places, because “in some places you’ll help, in some places you’ll hurt.” Meeks and others laughed at the end.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was near the front, eager to shake his hand. So was Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), an actual Baptist preacher.

“That was a sermon tonight!” he told the president.

“Thank you, man,” said Biden, before shaking someone else’s hand and pointing at him. “You know there’s no T in ‘Scranton.’ It’s Scran-un!”

Cheeeeese.
Cheeeeese. via Associated Press

Some moments were more serious. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) asked about the Ukrainian war effort.

“By the way, I’ve been in constant contact with them,” Biden said, leaning in. “Here’s what I worry about with Ukraine, if we pull away.”

His next comments were inaudible.

But then it was back to joking around.

“You were on fire!” said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).

“No one’s even talking about cognitive impairment now!” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

“I kind of wish sometimes I was cognitively impaired,” the president said with a grin.

“Hey Pat!” Biden shouted to former Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who he has known for decades. He told a story to Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) about how he and Leahy had been young senators together, and how disgruntled Leahy had once seemed about a newspaper article about Biden.

“A headline: ‘Biden: Coolest Man in Congress,’” said Biden. “I felt like I was cheatin’ on him!”

The people just kept coming. One attendee thanked Biden for his comments on Israel. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) gave him a hug, as another member of the audience said he couldn’t wait to see him in Texas for a debate. Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) urged him to come back to visit her district.

“Mr. President, you brought the Irish fire tonight,” gushed one House member.

“I’ll tell you what,” Biden replied, clearing his throat before launching into another story.

The chamber had mostly emptied out at that point. The rows and rows of seats that lawmakers usually occupy sat empty. But there was Biden, standing just feet away from where he had given his national address. Still talking.

The House chamber is nearly empty after the State of the Union address ended. But President Joe Biden is still there, talking to literally anyone and everyone.
The House chamber is nearly empty after the State of the Union address ended. But President Joe Biden is still there, talking to literally anyone and everyone. CSPAN

“I’m getting texts from everybody at home watching, saying, ‘Wow,’” said one woman, giving the president a hug. “My mom [was] jumping up and down.”

“Where’s your mom?” Biden asked. When she said Houston, the president immediately looked around for an aide and asked to get the mom’s phone number so he could call her.

“Really? Okay,” said the woman, pulling out her phone. “That would be amazing.”

It was now almost 11 p.m. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who was still standing up there on the dais, made eye contact with Biden and tapped his watch. Time to go, man.

Nope!

“I am holdin’ up everyone here. I’m so sorry to keep you guys waiting,” Biden said to top military leaders standing nearby.

“Thanks for accepting the appointment. It’s about time we had someone strong running the military,” the president told one military official.

He went up to another military leader and lightly bumped him on his chest with a fist. “I keep telling him, he’s got to work on his pecs!”

President Joe Biden lightly taps his fist on a top military leader at the State of the Union address.
President Joe Biden lightly taps his fist on a top military leader at the State of the Union address. "I keep telling him, he’s got to work on his pecs!” CSPAN

The exit doors were in sight. Biden’s team appeared to finally be getting him to wrap things up. But then — intercepted!

“The amount. Of carbon. Used in steel and cement. Is gigantic!” Biden told one man with great emphasis, putting his hands on his shoulders. Somehow that turned into a story about how his “great grandfather was the first Catholic elected to the state senate in Pennsylvania.”

An aide finally had to interrupt. “Most people can’t leave until we leave and we need to go this way,” the aide said to the president.

“Well, are they Democrats or Republicans?” Biden asked. “I’m joking. I’m joking.... I’ll get the hell out of here.”

Was he joking, though? He stopped again, this time to chat with Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

“I told him, Bibi — and don’t repeat this — but you and I are going to have a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting,” Biden said, using a nickname for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

An aide stepped in: “Sir, just, just—”

“I’m on a hot mic here,” Biden reported back to the group. “Good. That was good.”

Biden was talking to Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) when Johnson gaveled out the House, loudly declaring the joint session of Congress (and thus, SOTU) was over. Biden didn’t seem to notice. He didn’t seem to notice when the House adjourned, either. Or when the lights dimmed.

He was too busy posing for selfies, complimenting people’s glasses and talking to Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) for several minutes about wildfires in California.

The president stopped again to talk to Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who thanked him for mentioning the PACT Act, a 2022 law that expanded health benefits for veterans who were exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances. Takano talked about a veteran he knew who’d directly benefited.

“I didn’t do it because of my son,” Biden said, suddenly solemn. He was referring to his late son, Beau Biden, a National Guard vet who died from brain cancer in 2015, after previously serving in the Iraq War.

Beau “died, being a quarter mile from a burn pit for a year in Iraq,” Biden said.

It was sad for a moment. But then, the president was back to glad-handing, saying hello to someone’s niece who was viewing the scene from a Zoom call on a tablet.

“Hi Marissa, how are you!” Biden said to the person on the tablet, delighted. “You got your Irish shirt on? Alright!”