WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane gave an emphatic Republican rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night, repudiating his activist government policies that she said have made Americans’ lives worse.
McMorris Rodgers instead laid out an alternative, “more hopeful, Republican vision” in which free markets and individuals — not the government — drive down health-care and energy costs, improve schools and create jobs.
In contrast to Obama’s agenda-laden address, McMorris Rodgers stuck to broad promises that often echoed Democrats’ rhetorical themes about a compassionate, inclusive America that “helps working families rise above the limits of poverty and protects our most vulnerable.”
McMorris Rodgers used her own rise from a modest background as an emblem of individual empowerment. She grew up working in her family’s orchard and fruit stand in Eastern Washington, earned money for college by working as a motel maid and at McDonald’s and now serves as the No. 4 House Republican leader.
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Republicans “believe in a government that trusts people and doesn’t limit where you finish because of where you started,” McMorris Rodgers said during her live speech broadcast from inside the Capitol.
She spoke while seated on a couch in her office, a flag, family photo and fireplace in the background.
McMorris Rodgers called on Obama to join Republicans for “a year of real action,” not more taxes and spending. She pronounced the Affordable Care Act a failure. She blamed Democrats for a lack of jobs that has left “too many Americans living paycheck to paycheck.”
She expressed support for changing the nation’s immigration system, though she made no mention of what to do about the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally.
More so than Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and others who previously delivered the official GOP response, McMorris Rodgers gave an intimate glimpse of her family life. She said she made congressional history by giving birth three times while in office, most recently in November.
She recalled growing up as a daughter of a bus driver and a bookkeeper and becoming the first in her family to attend college. She spoke of her marriage to Brian Rodgers, a retired Navy commander, and how they dealt with the unexpected news that their firstborn, Cole, had Down syndrome.
“But when we looked at our son, we saw only possibilities,” McMorris Rodgers, 44, said. “We saw a gift from God.”
McMorris Rodgers is a stalwart social and fiscal conservative. Her speech left unmentioned many of her disagreements with the Democratic platform. Among them are her support for reducing spending on food stamps, opposition to renewing extended unemployment benefits and tax increases of any kind.
In his speech, Obama outlined dozens of government actions he said could help the nation, including raising the minimum wage, expanding prekindergarten to all 4-year-olds and a new vehicle to help Americans save for retirement.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who has championed many of the priorities contained in the president’s address, said before McMorris Rodgers’ speech that the two parties simply see the government’s proper role differently.
“I think it’s important that at a point in your life when you do need help, that you have a country that’s there for you,” Murray said.
McMorris Rodgers is the highest-ranking Republican female in Congress, whose combined House and Senate ranks total 23 women. She is the first person from Washington state to give a State of the Union response since former Gov. Gary Locke gave the Democratic rebuttal to President George W. Bush’s address in 2003.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Kyung Song: 202-383-6108 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @KyungMSong