Republicans shift focus from government in party's response to State of the Union

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With Vice President Joe Biden (left) and House Speaker John Boehner sitting behind him, President Obama gives his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill.  OLIVIER DOULIERY/MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS
OLIVIER DOULIERY/MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS
With Vice President Joe Biden (left) and House Speaker John Boehner sitting behind him, President Obama gives his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill.

WASHINGTON — Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers on Tuesday offered a kinder, gentler vision of Republicans who are determined to empower Americans, not the government, and close the gap “between where you are and where you want to be.”

Tapped to deliver the GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, McMorris Rodgers touched on the daily routines of average Americans that overshadow Wash­ington, from kissing children goodnight to preparing for a doctor’s visit, and complained that Obama’s policies are making life harder.

The highest-ranking Re­publican woman in Congress said the GOP believes “in a government that trusts people and doesn’t limit where you finish because of where you started. That is what we stand for – for an America that is every bit as compassionate as it is exceptional. Our plan is one that dreams big for everyone and turns its back on no one.”

Noteworthy for a member of the Republican leadership, McMorris Rodgers 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.

The chairwoman of the House Republican Conference focused on dealing with border security and expanding visas to attract high-tech workers.

Her remarks were highly personal, devoted in large part to her background and family. She spoke while seated on a couch in her office, a flag, family photo and fireplace in the background. She spoke of preferred Republican approaches on school choice, lower taxes and fewer regulations.

In contrast to McMorris Rodgers, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, offered a biting critique.

“After five years, President Obama is clearly out of ideas,” Boehner said in a statement. “With few bipartisan proposals, Americans heard a president more interested in advancing ideology than in solving the problems regular folks are talking about.”

He criticized the president for focusing on divisive issues and cautioned Obama against any unilateral action that could encroach on the Constitution. Notably, Boehner did urge Obama to work with Republicans on immigration changes.

McMorris Rodgers said that under the president’s economic policies “more Americans stopped looking for a job than found one,” and criticized his health care overhaul for leading to canceled insurance coverage and patients unable to see their regular doctors.

“Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government’s,” said the five-term congresswoman from eastern Washington. “And that whether you’re a boy with Down syndrome or a woman with breast cancer, you can find coverage and a doctor who will treat you.”

McMorris Rodgers’ son Cole, 6, has Down syndrome, and she co-founded the Congressional Down Syndrome Caucus six years ago to try to raise awareness of the difficulties that children with the syndrome face. The 44-year-old lawmaker delivered her third child just eight weeks ago.

Countering recent Democratic defenses of government, Mc­Morris Rodgers said the mission is “to ensure that we are not bound by where we come from, but empowered by what we can become. That is the gap Republicans are working to close. It’s the gap we all face: between where you are and where you want to be.”

Republicans have struggled to shed Democratic criticism that they’ve waged a “war on women,” a difficulty reflected in the 2012 presidential vote in which Obama captured 55 percent of the female vote. Republican remarks about “legitimate rape” and Mike Huck­abee’s recent convoluted comment about birth control and women’s libido have undermined the party’s effort to appeal to female voters.

McMorris Rodgers was not the lone GOP voice Tuesday night. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah was giving the tea party response to the president, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was delivering his views.

Seizing on Democrats’ complaints about income equality, Lee focused on inequality driven by the government and said he shared the frustration of Americans with “an ever-growing government that somehow thinks it is OK to lie to, spy on and even target its own citizens.”

Paul, in his speech, said “government spending doesn’t work. It doesn’t create jobs.”

He said the key to economic growth was lower taxes.

WAR’S END LOOMS; TROOPS TO REMAIN

WASHINGTON — President Obama says a small U.S. military force might remain in Afghanistan next year, but he’s promising to declare an end to the 12-year war there at the end of 2014.

Obama said during his State of the Union speech Tuesday that Afghanistan will take responsibility for its own future after the end of the year.

He said any U.S. troops that remain beyond 2014 will only help continue to train Afghan forces and carry out counterterror operations against al-Qaida and other extremists.

Obama did not say
how many troops might remain in Afghanistan after this year.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has so far refused to sign a security agreement with the U.S. that would allow American troops to remain.

– Associated Press


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