Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, the controversial, newly-elected tea party-endorsed lawmaker has been selected to deliver the Republican response to President Barack Obama's upcoming State of the Union address.
Ernst, who drew national headlines with her fiercely conservative 2014 Senate campaign, will hope to fare better than previous GOP politicians who filled the role, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo will deliver the Spanish-language translation of Ernst's response. The selection of Ernst and the announcement of Curbelo's Spanish-language translation may be an attempt to appeal to women and Hispanics — two of the GOP's most notoriously elusive demographics.
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The choice was revealed during the annual Republican National Committee winter meeting, with Ernst flanked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner. "She knows that our federal government is too big, our spending is too high, and our tax code is broken," Boehner said after the announcement. And, she knows first-hand the sacrifices our men and women in uniform make to keep us all safe in a dangerous world."
"Sen. Ernst brings a unique perspective to the Senate. She is a mother, a soldier and an independent leader who serves in Washington because Americans voted for change in the last election, and Joni understands that middle-class Americans want Congress to get back to work and that they want Washington to get refocused on their concerns, instead of those of the political class,” McConnell said in a statement Thursday.
"It's a long way from Red Oak to Washington D.C., and growing up on a Southwest Iowa farm years ago, I never, never would have imagined I would have this opportunity," Ernst told an audience which reportedly included 47 senators. "So thank you."
Ernst will be following the president's remarks when he is on a bit of an upswing. Despite months of seeing his approval ratings mired in the low 40s, a new Pew poll shows that Americans are growing more confident about the U.S. economy and are increasingly willing to give the president credit for its turnaround.
For her part, Ernst seems undaunted by the challenge of following Obama on the national stage. "Folks back home sent us to Washington D.C. with a clear mission and that mission is to get to work," she told her fellow Republicans.
The State of the Union will be delivered by President Obama on Jan. 20.
Additional reporting by Benjy Sarlin.