AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
While fielding calls from excited children and families about Santa's location on Christmas Eve, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden heard a father of four say, "Let's go Brandon," a phrase that's become a popular euphemism among some Republicans for an offensive insult directed at the president.
Now the caller, Jared Schmeck, is facing criticism for what Dr. Biden's press secretary called "classless, disrespectful, [and] juvenile" behavior.
Schmeck, meanwhile, says he's "being attacked for utilizing my freedom of speech."
Schmeck's call to the NORAD Santa Tracker, which has provided information on Santa's whereabouts on Christmas Eve for more than 60 years, started off jovial and lighthearted.
On the phone from his son's bedroom, Schmeck discussed with the Bidens what his children wanted for Christmas, including a piano for his son Griffin, a Nintendo Switch for his son Hunter, a Barbie airplane for his daughter Piper and "just about anything" for his 2-year-old daughter Penelope.
When asked what he would like for Christmas, Schmeck said, "a quiet night."
"Lots of luck, dad," Biden, 79, replied, as they all laughed.
"Well, have a Merry Christmas," the first lady, 70, said. "Have a wonderful Christmas."
The president added that the kids ought to be in bed by 9 p.m. and said, "I hope you have a wonderful Christmas."
"I hope you guys have a wonderful Christmas as well," Schmeck responded, before adding, "Merry Christmas and Let's go Brandon!"
Though the Bidens didn't appear to react to the insult, backlash to Schmeck's prank call began to appear on social media and among political commentators discussing the story on TV.
"I refuse to believe we are this indecent as people. Not on Christmas Eve. And not to a person who lost his wife and daughter at Christmastime. We are better than this. Be kind and #MerryChristmas," Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell wrote on Twitter Friday.
In another tweet on Christmas, Swalwell said, "Don't waste your time on the pathetic dad who humiliated his family to say F-U to the president on Christmas Eve. He's irrelevant. Spend your time asking why Republican leaders are celebrating him. This isn't my parents' Republican Party. This new crew are indecent to their core."
In an interview on Christmas morning, Schmeck told the Oregonian that his remark was a "joke" and that he was "frustrated" over the president's policies, including federal vaccine mandates, inflation and supply chain issues.
"At the end of the day, I have nothing against Mr. Biden, but I am frustrated because I think he can be doing a better job," Schmeck said in the interview. "I mean no disrespect to him."
He added that since the call he's "being attacked for utilizing my freedom of speech."
"I understand there is a vulgar meaning to 'Lets go Brandon,' but I'm not that simple minded, no matter how I feel about him," Schmeck also said. "He seems likes he's a cordial guy. There's no animosity or anything like that. It was merely just an innocent jest to also express my God-given right to express my frustrations in a joking manner ... I love him just like I love any other brother or sister."
The first lady's press secretary took the comments differently and posted his thoughts on Twitter.
It’s sick, tasteless, classless, disrespectful, juvenile, & appalling behavior for a parent (toward any commander-in-chief).But, no reasonable Democrat is actually shocked.
Grateful for a @POTUS and @FLOTUS w/dignity and class who set an example for our kids (and parents) https://t.co/O2iDjN1DVD
— Michael LaRosa (@MichaelLaRosa46) December 26, 2021
"It's sick, tasteless, classless, disrespectful, juvenile, & appalling behavior for a parent (toward any commander-in-chief). But, no reasonable Democrat is actually shocked," Michael LaRosa tweeted. "Grateful for a @POTUS and @FLOTUS w/dignity and class who set an example for our kids (and parents)."
But Schmeck is showing no remorse and told the Oregonian he "stood 100 percent behind what I did and what I said."
A YouTube page that reportedly belongs to Schmeck includes a video of the call. "We talked to President Joe Biden on Christmas Eve!" the clip is titled, along with the hashtag "#letsgobrandon."
Despite earlier saying he had "no animosity" toward Biden, in a media appearance on Monday, Schmeck made false claims about the 2020 presidential election (which he said was "100% stolen") and wore a Make America Great Again hat.
"Donald Trump is my president and he should still be president right now. The election was 100% stolen. So, I just want to make that clear," Schmeck said on Steve Bannon's War Room podcast.