Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who delivered the
sanctioned Republican response to Obama, queued up long-standing
party doctrine that "champions free markets and trusts people to
make their own decisions, not a government that decides for you."
McMorris Rodgers, a five-term congresswoman from Washington state,
took a broad swipe at Obamacare, the 2010 landmark healthcare law
that Republicans have tried to repeal, delay or significantly alter
nearly 50 times since its enactment.
"We've all talked to too many people who have received cancellation
notices they didn't expect or who can no longer see the doctors they
always have," McMorris Rodgers said of the Affordable Care Act,
which got off to a troubled start.
"No, we shouldn't go back to the way things were, but the
president's health care law is not working," she said.
Republican Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, two
favorites of the anti-Washington Tea Party movement, staged separate
responses to Obama's speech.
Paul, who joined the Senate in 2011 and is often mentioned as a
possible 2016 presidential candidate, appealed to the conservative
base of the Republican Party.
"Economic growth will come when we lower taxes for everyone," Paul
said. "Government spending doesn't work."
McMorris Rodgers is relatively unknown nationally, even though as
No. 4 House Republican she is the highest-ranking female member of
her party in Congress. She also holds the distinction of being the
only person to give birth three times while serving as a member of
the House of Representatives.
Discussing her eldest child's Down syndrome diagnosis, McMorris
Rodgers brought a softer tone to her party, which is often accused
by Democrats of helping the rich at the expense of the poor and
"Today, we see a 6-year-old boy who dances to Bruce Springsteen, who
reads above grade level and who is the best big brother in the
world," McMorris Rodgers said, adding, "We see all the things he can
do, not those he can't."
Her moment in the limelight came as Republicans see November's
congressional elections and the 2016 race for the White House as
opportunities to close a "gender gap" that contributed to their 2012
That gender gap was on full display in 2012, when Obama received 55
percent of women's votes, while failed Republican presidential
candidate Mitt Romney got 44 percent.
Even as Republicans tried to broaden their appeal with women voters,
they pushed through the House on Tuesday a partisan bill that would
make it more difficult for some women to get abortions.
One year ago, a USA Today/Gallup poll found that by a
53-percent-to-29 percent margin, Americans said they wanted the Roe
v. Wade Supreme Court decision granting abortion rights to be kept
A SECOND GAP
Attacking another gap — among Hispanic-American voters — Republican
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida delivered a speech
closely tracking McMorris Rodgers' but spoken in Spanish.
[to top of second column]
In 2012, Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote to Romney's 27
percent. Since then, House Republicans have blocked comprehensive
immigration reform moves that are important to Latino voters.
In his address to a joint session of Congress, Obama called for
finishing work this year on comprehensive immigration reform.
Ros-Lehtinen was vague about immigration reform's prospects in the
House, noting that Congress needed to "fix our broken immigration
system with a permanent solution," she said in a Reuters translation
of her remarks.
On Thursday, House Republican leaders are expected to make public
their "principles" for pursuing immigration reform this year. It was
unclear whether those principles will advance any further amid deep
An outspoken opponent of such legislation, Representative Lamar
Smith of Texas, on Tuesday warned: "Ten million Americans are
unemployed and millions more have given up looking.
"We should put them first," before giving "work permits" to people
who came to the United States illegally, Smith said.
Like McMorris Rodgers, Senator Lee also demanded a smaller federal
The rise of the Tea Party helped Republicans win control of the
House in the 2010 elections, but some of its Senate candidates in
the past few elections have fallen short, leaving that chamber in
the hands of Democrats.
Nevertheless, the Tea Party's war against large federal budget
deficits set the agenda for Congress in 2011, 2012 and 2013, when
Democrats and Republicans battled each other over spending cuts.
Tea Party initiatives, Lee said, ranging from welfare and criminal
justice reforms to ending corporate subsidies, "will put Americans
back to work, not just by cutting big government, but by fixing
After all the pomp of a presidential State of the Union speech,
complete with standing ovations and celebrities in the audience,
McMorris Rodgers, Lee and Paul may have known they would have a
tough act to follow with their response speeches.
"Someday, the party not in the White House is going to figure out
that these are not a good idea. The optics are always terrible,"
said Paul Sracic, head of Youngstown State University's political
science department in Ohio.
"How can you not look small when compared to a president addressing
both houses of Congress," Sracic said.
(Editing by Peter Cooney and Jim Loney)
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