Posted by Curt on 29 January, 2014 at 9:29 am. 8 comments already!


Robert Costa:

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) had one of the more difficult tasks in politics on Tuesday, delivering the official Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address.

As with previous responders, she had to speak from an isolated setting — a quiet room inside the Capitol — and without the pomp and near-constant applause given to the president down the hall. Nevertheless, and to the surprise of many Capitol Hill insiders, McMorris Rodgers largely succeeded, mixing plainspoken platitudes with tenderly told stories about her children and her blue-collar roots.

It was all there — easygoing populism, an emphasis on jobs and her family, which includes a son with Down syndrome and a Navy veteran husband. It was as if a Republican pollster had somehow created a politician with the exact profile that Republicans are looking to promote as they head toward this year’s midterm elections. Here was a pro-life, never-offensive Republican woman from a Western state who grew up picking apples on a farm; a youthful, 44-year-old Republican who is known as one of the most savvy social-media users in the House, uploading countless photos to Instagram and videos to Vine.

Even better, there was no unfortunate reach for a water bottle, as painfully endured by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) last year in his response, or the kind of awkward articulation that caused long-lasting headaches for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2009, when he delivered the Republican response to an Obama economic speech. Instead, it was a relatively smooth delivery, with the congresswoman whisking through her scripted remarks on a gold couch, a triangularly-folded American flag on a shelf behind her.

No drama, no problems. You could almost hear the collective breath exhaled by Republicans as they strolled through Statuary Hall, many of them watching McMorris Rodgers on their iPhones or nearby televisions. After a tumultuous year, full of shutdowns and drama, McMorris Rodgers’s almost calculated understatedness and upbeat, check-the-box appeal was cheered by Republicans.

The essence of the speech was soft outreach and balance. “I’d like to share a more hopeful Republican vision,” McMorris Rodgers said.

She criticized the president without going overboard. She talked about repealing the Affordable Care Act but didn’t use a rhetorical hammer to make the point. On policy, she touched upon economic growth and fiscal reform, but never dove into the weeds, frustrating some conservative onlookers and fulfilling the unsaid part of her duties: sound winsome and engaging, but do not make news.

“Too many people are falling further and further behind because, right now, the president’s policies are making people’s lives harder,” McMorris Rodgers said, citing her days as a McDonald’s drive-through employee as evidence of her empathy. “Republicans have plans to close the gap.”

On health care: “We’ve all talked to too many people who have received cancellation notices they didn’t expect or who can no longer see the doctors they always have,” she said. “No, we shouldn’t go back to the way things were, but the president’s health-care law is not working.”

Yet in spite of the claps from the GOP faithful, questions linger, especially one: Why is McMorris Rodgers only now getting widespread attention and a heavyweight billing in her party after more than a year in the leadership and five terms in the House? Until Tuesday night, many Americans, outside the usual Beltway types, had never heard of her.

The answer is complicated, partly because expectations for McMorris Rodgers inside the party’s hierarchy have rarely been as high as they are this week. She’s admired and respected, but she has never been thought of as the next Nikki Haley or Susana Martinez — as a possible star who could fire up a convention hall or a national ticket.

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