For the third consecutive year, the Republican Party’s official response to the State of the Union was actually split in two: one in English and one in Spanish.
In theory, this was supposed to be simple. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) would deliver a carefully crafted GOP response to President Obama’s speech, while Rep Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) would deliver the identical speech in Spanish. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, it’s a funny story.
The potential pitfall was the disagreement between Ernst and Curbelo about immigration reform. The right-wing Iowan is a fierce opponent of immigration reform – under the circumstances, it was ironic her speech was being delivered in two languages since she’s an English-only supporter – while the Florida Republican has actually criticized his party for blocking bipartisan solutions.
The disagreement created uncertainty: how would Republicans deal with one of the nation’s most pressing issues when their two official speakers are on opposite sides? As it turned out, they’d deal with it in the most cynical way possible. Politico was one of many outlets to notice:
Republicans sent mixed signals on immigration in their two official rebuttals to President Obama Tuesday night: Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst’s rebuttal made no mention of the topic, but the Spanish-language version of the rebuttal, delivered by Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo, said Republicans wanted to work with Obama to fix the immigration system.“We should also work through the appropriate channels to create permanent solutions for our immigration system, to secure our borders, modernize legal immigration, and strengthen our economy,” said Curbelo in Spanish. “In the past, the president has expressed support for ideas like these. Now we ask him to cooperate with us to get it done.”
If Republican officials had said the two lawmakers intended to give different speeches, this might be less of an issue, but they actually said the opposite.
Indeed, House Republicans specifically told reporters, in writing, that Curbelo would deliver “the Spanish-Language translated address of Sen. Joni Ernst response.” He’d have to change personal details such as his own name, but otherwise, it was supposed to be the same speech.
Ernst, however, never mentioned immigration at all, while Curbelo devoted a paragraph to the issue. An English-speaking audience heard Republicans overlook immigration, while a Spanish-speaking audience was led to believe GOP lawmakers actually want to pass immigration reform. (They don’t.)
Republicans must have known they’d get caught trying to pull a fast one, but based on their response to the Washington Post, the party doesn’t much care.
Ernst and her aides weren’t available for comment and had declined to speak earlier in the day about her speech. But top Republican aides defended their decision to use different spokespeople to shape the same general narrative.“As in previous years’ State of the Union responses, Senator Ernst (R-Iowa) and Congressman Curbelo (R-Fla.) spoke of the GOP vision of commonsense solutions and greater opportunity for everyone in this country – framed by their unique stories and experiences,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), said in an email.
If this trick sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because we’ve seen the GOP try it before. About three years ago, we learned that Sen. Dean Heller (R) of Nevada created a campaign website with a separate, Spanish-language version. On the English-language version, the Republican condemned “amnesty” and “illegal immigrants,” while on the Spanish-language version, Heller conveniently forgot to include the same message.
It’s tough to get away with stuff like this anymore. Republicans really ought to stop trying.