Republicans hope Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers will give the party a fresh face when she delivers the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night.
She needs to deliver some fresh ideas, as well.
Eastern Washington’s five-term representative has climbed to the House Republican Conference chairmanship – the fourth-ranking post in the party House hierarchy – by sticking close to House Speaker John Boehner. That has often positioned her between his relatively moderate, establishment conservatism and the tea party enthusiasts who are a substantial part of her constituency – and also the speaker’s chief tormenters until last fall’s government shutdown broke their grip on House affairs.
Since then, a compromise bipartisan budget has been passed and signed by the president. That minor miracle has nurtured hope Congress can move forward on other backlogged items, like immigration.
McMorris Rodgers and Boehner are reportedly putting together a set of “principles” that will be the nucleus of a House immigration bill. Their work to recast the Republican position on the issue could not be more welcome. Her address Tuesday will be a success if she can discuss ideas that recognize the reality that millions in the United States illegally are not going home, cannot be rounded up, and in fact make a substantial contribution to the economy. They can do much more, if given a way.
McMorris Rodgers will have an advantage enjoyed by none of her recent predecessors. Obama’s popularity is at the lowest ebb of his administration. Despite a slow but consistent improvement in the national economy during his term, millions remain jobless, and incomes for the middle class are stagnant.
It’s a good bet the president will focus on the increasing income inequality, and use the continuing economic uncertainty to justify ongoing assistance to those untouched by the recovery.
Republicans say they have awakened to the growing dissatisfaction. With a family that now includes three young children, McMorris Rodgers has a chance to convince Americans that Republicans can respond to the stresses on young families, perhaps with expanded tax credits or a wage supplement.
But McMorris Rodgers’ biggest advantage is the most obvious: She will be a new voice. After five years of talking, and talking, and frequently overpromising, the president’s ability to command attention has waned. When the spotlight shifts to her, Americans would welcome a message that acknowledges their struggles and proposes solutions.
Should she, of all Republicans, lean too heavily on a recitation of Obamacare’s failings, she will open herself up to the obvious questions about why, so far, it is working well in her home state.
Even successful responses to the State of the Union seldom resound. The flops – remember Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal? – are carrion for late night comics.
Clearly, the Republican leadership is confident McMorris Rodgers will be a strong advocate for the party. We agree, and expect to hear about a party focused on new ideas, not old postures.