Trying to make up for the party’s repeated missteps with female voters, House Republicans called on their go-to woman to respond to President Obama’s State of the Union address next Tuesday: Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the highest-ranking woman in the House GOP.
McMorris Rodgers, 44, is a regular sight behind the podium on Capitol Hill, where she’s often still the only female Republican in sight. In a party where male legislators still predominate, the Washington state lawmaker is there to defend the party when Democrats accuse the GOP of waging a ‘War on Women.’ She’s also the only member of Congress to give birth three time while in office—a fact that her party put front and center of their video announcing that she would be giving the party’s official response to Obama’s address next week.
“Through the lens of her family’s experiences, Cathy will share our vision for a better America built on a thriving middle class, guided by a fierce belief in life and liberty, and grounded in greater trust between citizens and their government,” said Speaker John Boehner in a statement on Thursday.
First elected in 2004, McMorris Rodgers has risen quickly within the GOP’s ranks—a legislative workhorse in a party that’s become more sensitive to its predominantly male face.
”It’s important to have a woman in leadership—more than one, if we could do it,” Rep. Fred Upton, chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said during her 2012 bid for a House leadership position. McMorris Rodgers herself has called for Republicans to extend its appeal. ”We’ve allowed Democrats to define us in ways that are very damaging—we’re the party of the rich, male, out of touch, old fashioned,” she said last year.
But her gender is hardly the only thing that distinguishes McMorris Rodgers from her peers. As the chair of the House Republican Conference, she holds conservative views that are squarly in line with her GOP colleagues, throwing her full weight behind the government shutdown over Obamacare.
Behind the mic, however, McMorris Rodgers is no fire-breather. Low-key and relentlessly on message, her rhetoric can be pointed but is rarely over the top. Even when she’s hammering away at Democrats for driving the country into a ditch, she’s not one to raise her voice in anger.
McMorris Rodgers will not be alone on Tuesday evening. Two other GOP firebrands - Sens. Mike Lee and and Rand Paul - are planning to take a piece of the spotlight by giving their responses to Obama’s speech.
The task at hand for McMorris Rodgers won’t be easy: Following a presidential address before all of Congress with a lone act before a single camera, rising stars like Gov. Bobby Jindal have stumbled badly in previous State of the Union responses. And McMorris Rodgers is likely to play it safe in her delivery: As the official host of 2012’s Republican National Convention, McMorris Rodgers came across as workmanlike even when she came to the biggest line of her speech.
“That message is three simple words: ‘We—built—it,’” she said, her voice ever-steady. “Unlike President Obama, I know that small businesses are the true engine of our economy, not the government,” she continued.
As McMorris Rodgers takes the biggest public stage of her political career, Republicans, perhaps, are also hoping to turn down the temperature and move the spotlight away from firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz and the pugnacious Gov. Chris Christie, whose very combativeness could now risk tarnishing the party’s brand. The risk is that McMorris Rodgers’s cool temperament might result in a speech that’s not particularly memorable. But at least it won’t make headlines like Mike Huckabee.