President Joe Biden said Saturday that he shouldn’t have referred to Laken Riley’s suspected murderer as an “illegal” in his State of the Union speech less than 48 hours earlier. Now, Republicans are criticizing the president for “cowering” to the Left while backtracking on his words.  

The president is cowering to his base and showing deference to a man who deserves none,” House Speaker Mike Johnson wrote Sunday on X.  

“Laken Riley was murdered by an illegal immigrant,” Rep. Michael Guest, R-Miss., told The Daily Signal, referring to the illegal alien from Venezuela charged with murder in the 22-year-old nursing student’s bludgeoning death Feb. 22 on the University of Georgia campus in Athens, Georgia.

Guest added that “there is no other term we ought to be using to describe her alleged murderer.” 

“OUTRAGE: Biden is on an apology tour for calling the man that murdered Laken Riley ‘illegal’—but not apologizing for allowing this killer into our country,” Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., wrote on X. “You can’t make this stuff up.” 

The White House said Monday that Biden “absolutely did not apologize” for calling the suspect “illegal,” Fox News reported.

During an interview with The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart that aired Saturday on his MSNBC show, Biden said, “I shouldn’t have used ‘illegal’” when referring to Jose Ibarra, 26, the man accused of killing Riley.  

“So, you regret using that word?” Capehart asked Biden.  

“Yes,” the president responded.  

“Is there a better example of Biden being a puppet controlled by his staff than when he apologized for calling an illegal alien alleged murderer, ‘illegal’?” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., wrote Monday on X.  

Riley was killed while out for a jog on the University of Georgia campus, police said. Ibarra, the illegal immigrant charged with killing her, was arrested in New York in 2023 on charges of child endangerment, but was released before U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could ask local law enforcement to hold him. 

During his State of the Union Address on Thursday night, Biden held up a button reading “Say Her Name/Laken Riley.”  

“Lincoln Riley, an innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal,” the president said, after being prompted by shouts from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., in the audience.

Greene, wearing a shirt reading “Say Her Name” in reference to Riley, could be seen shouting, “Say her name” seconds before Biden held up the button. The president also was criticized for pronouncing Riley’s first name as “Lincoln” instead of “Laken.”  

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., waits in the House chamber Thursday night for President Joe Biden to arrive to deliver his State of the Union address. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

After Biden’s appearance Saturday on MSNBC, Greene wrote on X that Biden “just apologized to the illegal alien animal who brutally murdered Laken Riley.”  

“Joe Biden now regrets calling Laken Riley’s murderer an ‘illegal,’ adding that criminal illegal aliens ‘built the country’ and are the ‘reason our economy is growing,’” Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., said on X, adding: “Pure evil.” 

Biden also was critical of former President Donald Trump during his interview with Capehart on MSNBC.  

“And look, when I spoke about the difference between Trump and me, one of the things I talked about on the border was that his way he talks about ‘vermin,’ the way he talks about these people ‘polluting the blood,’ I talked about what I’m not going to do, what I won’t do. I’m not going to treat any of these people with disrespect,” Biden told Capehart. 

“Look, they built the country. They’re the reason our economy is growing. We have to control the border and more orderly flow, but I don’t share his view at all,” Biden said, referring to Trump.  

Trump met with Riley’s parents and sister Saturday before speaking at a campaign rally in Rome, Georgia.  

While on stage, Trump criticized Biden for “apologizing” to the murder suspect in Riley’s death.  

“Joe Biden went on television and apologized for calling Laken’s murderer an illegal,” Trump said as the crowd began to boo.  

“I say he was an illegal alien,” the former president said. “He was an illegal immigrant. He was an illegal migrant. And he shouldn’t have been in our county, and he never would have been under the Trump policy.”  

“And Biden should be apologizing for apologizing to this killer,” Trump said.  

“Illegal alien” is a legal term, said Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation. (The Daily Signal is the news and commentary outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)  

“Illegal alien is the correct legal term that should be used,” von Spakovsky wrote in a commentary for The Daily Signal.  

“‘Undocumented immigrant’ is a politically correct, made-up term adopted by pro-illegal alien advocacy groups and liberal media outlets to obscure the fact that such aliens have violated U.S. immigration law and are in the country illegally,” von Spakovsky wrote.  

Since Biden became president in January 2021, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has reported encountering more than 8.8 million illegal aliens on America’s borders and at ports of entry.

That total doesn’t include what the agency calls 1.7 million “known gotaways.” CBP also said it has encountered about 1,500 individuals on America’s terror watch list at the border since Biden took office. 

Have an opinion about this article? To sound off, please email, and we’ll consider publishing your edited remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. Remember to include the URL or headline of the article plus your name and town and/or state.