The State of the Union belongs to the president. But every member of Congress tries to snag a share of the spotlight, so the moment Barack Obama was finished speaking—and in some cases, well before—Republicans blasted out a blizzard of withering criticism over TV, Twitter and more.
The official GOP reponse was delivered by Washington state Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference and the majority’s fourth-ranking member. “Tonight the president made more promises that sound good, but won’t solve the problems actually facing Americans,” she said, sitting on a gold-embroidered couch in front of a fireplace in the Capitol. Instead, McMorris Rodgers outlined the GOP’s competing vision: “One that champions free markets—and trusts people to make their own decisions, not a government that decides for you. It helps working families rise above the limits of poverty and protects our most vulnerable. And it’s one where Washington plays by the same rules that you do.”
The fifth-term Republican from Washington was selected, party leaders said, for her compelling biography and legislative accomplishments. The mother of three children, including a son with Down syndrome, she provides a visual counterpoint to the Democratic contention that the GOP is waging a “war on women.”
McMorris Rodgers hijacked one of Obama’s themes by outlining a vision for a “year of real action,” one marked by border security-driven immigration reforms. And she tweaked the president’s focus on income inequality by pledging to close the “real gap we face today, one of opportunity inequality,” through school choice and job training.
Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee delivered a separate response on behalf of tea party activists, geared toward “Americans who may feel they’ve been forgotten by both political parties.” He assailed what he called a federal government that “thinks it’s OK to lie to, spy on and even target its own citizens.”
“The president’s lofty rhetoric ignored the fact that his policies continue to leave poor families behind,” Lee said, arguing Obama’s focus on income inequality ignores that the inequality “comes from government.”
–with reporting from Dan Hirschhorn