Why The GOP Wants McMorris Rogers To Respond To Obama, And What She’ll Say

The timing of the announcement — just minutes after Mike Huckabee lit up the media last Thursday with an off-color comment about female “libidos” — may or may not have been a coincidence: Republicans revealed that Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers will deliver the GOP response to President Barack Obama’s sixth State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

What isn’t a coincidence is the fact she’s the highest-ranked Republican woman in elected office — the chair of the House GOP Conference, the No. 4 post which is tasked with messaging — at a time when the party is eager to repair its tattered reputation with women voters. The 44-year-old congresswoman, a mother of three, was first elected in 2004 to represent a Spokane-based conservative district in Eastern Washington.

In a sense, McMorris Rodgers is just what the GOP needs to rebut Obama: someone who stays on message, is unfailingly loyal to the party’s leaders and comes off as pragmatic and likeable — and, yes, happens not to be an old white man. Republican lawmakers and aides from House and Senate leadership on down have been aggressively promoting the congresswoman and circulating a biographical clip package of her ahead of the Tuesday speech.

So, what should you expect her to say?

Essentially, she’ll defend the standard Republican party positions that you’ve been hearing from Speaker John Boehner (who championed her run for a leadership post) on the economy, health care and energy. Expect a squeaky-clean speech that includes a thorough criticism of the Obama agenda and possibly a subtle retort to Democrats’ claims about a GOP “war on women.”

“She will articulate a powerful vision for the Republican Party that’s focused on empowering people to get ahead regardless of where they started. And she’ll use her personal story to make that case to the American people,” said an aide to McMorris Rodgers, who was granted anonymity to preview her speech to TPM. “She was the first in her family to graduate and rose to become the highest-ranking woman in the Congress. Her oldest son Cole is born with Down Syndrome, and she’ll talk consistently about how he has shaped the way she approaches legislating and how he has made her a better legislator.”

Don’t expect any off-color comments, policy twists or new initiatives.

“No one has time in that forum to launch any big new policy initiatives. It’s just not the platform to do that,” said the aide. “Her goal is to lay out a bold, alternative vision. This is what Republicans believe, and it’s what we believe will help you get ahead.”

Not all Republicans are thrilled with the choice. McMorris Rodgers has her share of detractors in the GOP conference, including those who preferred to have someone more conservative in her leadership post. Some of those same individuals wanted a more outspoken conservative to speak to the country on behalf of the Republican Party, but none would say that on the record.

Barney Keller, a spokesman for the Club For Growth, a wealthy conservative lobbying group, appeared startled by GOP leaders’ decision.

But Keller reminded inquiring reporters of his disclaimer that his tweets are “not necessarily reflective of the views of my employer.” He didn’t respond to TPM’s request to elaborate on his thoughts.

Watch the video released by the congresswoman’s office ahead of the speech:

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