Biden says her name — Laken Riley — at the urging of GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., wears a Laken Riley shirt as she arrives before President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol, Thursday March 7, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., wears a Laken Riley shirt as she arrives before President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol, Thursday March 7, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — It was what the Republicans demanded but never expected.

President Joe Biden said her name: “Laken Riley.”

But in garbling the pronunciation, he left Republicans dissatisfied and opened himself to more criticism.

The death of Riley, a nursing student from Georgia, has become a rallying cry for Republicans, a tragedy that they say encompasses the Biden administration’s handling of the U.S-Mexico border amid a record surge of immigrants entering the country. An immigrant from Venezuela who entered the U.S. illegally has been arrested and charged with murder.

Even before Biden started speaking in the State of the Union address on Thursday, the topic of border security was certain to rise as one of the most tense moments.

The Democratic president was confronted as he walked into the House chamber by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the hard-line Republican, decked out in a red Trump MAGA hat and a T-shirt emblazoned with the message, which was also on a button she pressed into his hand.

“Say her name,” it said, the phrase evoking the language used specifically from activists calling attention to the deaths of Black women at the hands of police.

Midway through the speech, Biden started talking about border security and called on Congress to pass legislation to secure the border and modernize the country’s outdated immigration laws, praising the bipartisan effort that collapsed when his likely Republican presidential rival, Donald Trump, opposed it.

Greene interjected, “Say her name!”

The congresswoman from Georgia yelled, pointing a finger and jabbing it toward Biden.

And then Biden did just that.

He held up the white button and said: “Laken Riley.”

But he mispronounced her first name so it sounded more like “Lincoln” to some, and the GOP critics instantly pounced.

“It’s Laken Riley, Mr. President,” said the conservative Heritage Foundation on social media.

Still, Biden spoke briefly of Riley’s death and he made reference to his own family’s trauma — his first wife and young daughter were killed in 1972 after an automobile crash. His son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015.

And then Biden urged Congress to work together to pass a border security compromise.

“Get this bill done!” Biden said.

He even called on Trump to stop fighting against any border deal.

“We can do it together,” he said.

With immigration becoming a top issue in the presidential election, Republicans are using nearly every tool at their disposal — including impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas — to condemn how the president has handled the border.

Hours earlier, the House voted to pass the “Laken Riley Act,” which would require the Department of Homeland Security to detain migrants who are in the country without authorization and are accused of theft.

Authorities have arrested on murder and assault charges Jose Ibarra, a Venezuelan man who entered the U.S. illegally and was allowed to stay to pursue his immigration case. He has not entered a plea to the charges.

Trump has used Riley’s death to slam Biden’s handling of the border and at an event this month told the crowd that the president would never say her name.

Biden has also adopted some of the language of Trump on the border, and on Thursday night he called the man charged with killing Riley an “illegal.”

That was disappointing to Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “I wish he hadn’t engaged with Marjorie Taylor Greene and used the word ‘illegal,’” she told the AP after the speech.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, the speaker emerita, said afterward on CNN, “Now he should have said ‘undocumented,’ but it’s not a big thing.”

Greene had handed out the buttons earlier in the day.

The phrase “say her name” was popularized by civil rights activist, law professor and executive director of the African American Policy Institute Kimberlé Crenshaw in 2015, following the death of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old Black woman, who was found dead in a Texas jail cell a few days after she was arrested during a traffic stop.

Biden as he spoke looked up to the gallery, where many guests were seated, but Riley’s parents were not there.

Rep. Mike Collins, a Georgia Republican, said this week that he had invited Riley’s parents to the State of the Union address but they had “chosen to stay home as they grieve the loss of their daughter.”

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Associated Press writers Farnoush Amiri, Jill Colvin and Graham Brewer, contributed to this story.

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