What Did You Miss in the Republican Responses to the State of the Union?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 29 2014 10:36 AM

What Did You Miss in the Republican Responses to the State of the Union?

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Cathy McMorris Rodgers, ready for her close-up.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Not much.

I suppose this post should contain a few more words, right? Well: There were four Republican responses to the State of the Union, three of them in English. The official response, from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, elevated the fourth-ranking member of the leadership and got all manner of media outlets to profile her.

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This was of some amusement to the reporters who dutifully listen during her short, weekly remarks at Republican news conferencesMcMorris is no Marco Rubio or Bob McDonnell or Bobby Jindal, ambitiously grabbing hold of new policies. The SOTU response doesn't allow for a preview of the speech, so that the answerer might know what he's answering. Thus, we got a Horatio Alger speech ("I grew up working at my family's orchard and fruit stand in Kettle Falls") with an inspiring section about Rodgers' son with Down syndrome ("a 6-year old boy who dances to Bruce Springsteen"). On Obamacare, we learned that a Rodgers constituent saw a huge surge in premiums, and that the GOP will respond to this eventually.

Utah Sen. Mike Lee's response, the fourth annual project of the Tea Party Express,* mentioned one thing that Rodgers didn't: government spying. The press is starting to recognize Lee as a thoughtful conservative (dude was an Alito clerk!) not fair to lump in with the pitchfork guys. Here was a condemnation of federal land use and a call for total undoing of Obamacare.

But neither Lee nor Rodgers nor Rand Paul nor (especially) Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen really disagreed about anything apart from a response to the NSA scandal. McKay Coppins gets it right: The multiple responses were grasps for publicity, nothing more serious.

*The first was given by Michele Bachmann, and is remembered for her uncharacteristic failure to look at the camera, after she was told to look into the wrong one.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.