Fans of State of the Union rebuttals were treated to an embarrassment of riches Tuesday night when a fractured Republican Party responded to President Obama’s speech in four separate installments.
Only two of those responses were officially sanctioned by the national party. Washington Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers delivered the official response in English, while Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen gave an amended version of the same speech in Spanish.
Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee gave what was described as the Tea Party rebuttal in a live stream hosted on the website of the Tea Party Express, while Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul uploaded a response to the State of the Union on his official YouTube channel.
The fact that both official responses were delivered by women appears to be no coincidence, as the Republican Party has worked to increase its appeal among women voters. To that end, Rodgers’ speech emphasized her personal biography and experiences as a mother, even as it implied that the GOP would not be budging on abortion. Though Rodgers did not explicitly refer to the subject, argued that giving birth to a son with Down’s syndrome had “made me more determined to see the potential in every human life.”
Just hours before Rodgers delivered her speech, the House of Representatives voted to restrict private insurance coverage of abortion through the Affordable Care Act exchanges.
While Rodgers addressed the controversy obliquely – and Lee mentioned protecting “viable, unborn children” explicitly – all four rebuttals dedicated a significant amount of time to the issue of economic inequality. Economic opportunity was a central theme in the president’s State of the Union address, and the four Republicans attempted to re-frame the problem in a manner more aligned with conservative policies.
One of the main causes of inequality, Lee claimed, is the result of “immobility among the poor, who are being trapped in poverty by big government programs.” Paul also blamed big government, saying that “prosperity comes when more money is left in the private marketplace.”
While Paul is famous for his idiosyncratic style and advocacy civil liberties issues and criminal justice reform, the libertarian-leaning senator largely stuck to economic policy and doctrinaire Republican principles in his speech. He even went so far as to quote Ronald Reagan twice, once at the very beginning of his remarks.
Lee seemed more comfortable chiding the Republican Party, which he said can be “just as out-of-touch as the Democratic establishment.” The tea-party senator was also the only of the four speakers to emphasize National Security Agency surveillance, saying that he was frustrated with “an ever-growing government that somehow thinks it is okay to lie to, spy on, and even target its own citizens.” Paul, who is a harsh critic of the NSA in Congress, avoided the subject.
GOP rebuttal to State of the Union