WASHINGTON -- Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) delivered the Republican Party’s official response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in camouflage heels, to remind those watching that she’s the Senate’s only female combat veteran.
“I’d like to have a conversation about the new Republican Congress you just elected, and how we plan to make Washington focus on your concerns again,” she said. “We heard the message you sent in November -- loud and clear. And now we’re getting to work to change the direction Washington has been taking our country.”
Though Democrats pointed to Ernst’s conservative policy stances in an attempt to rebut her campaign’s folksy profile leading up to November’s midterm election, the former state legislator beat her opponent, former Rep. Bruce Braley, by more than 8 percentage points. She became the first woman ever elected to Congress from Iowa.
On Tuesday, she drew upon aspects of her personal story to make the case for the GOP’s economic sensitivity, saying that growing up in southwestern Iowa, she personally felt “the sting of the economy and the frustration with Washington’s dysfunction.”
“As a young girl, I plowed the fields of our family farm. I worked construction with my dad. To save for college, I worked the morning biscuit line at Hardees,” she said, recounting an anecdote about wearing plastic bags over her shoes to protect them on rainy school days.
While Obama touted the nation’s low unemployment rate of 5.6 percent and offered a variety of proposals to help the middle class, Ernst gave a different take on the nation’s gradual economic recovery.
“We see our neighbors agonize over stagnant wages and lost jobs,” she said. “We see the hurt caused by canceled healthcare plans and higher monthly insurance bills. We see too many moms and dads put their own dreams on hold while growing more fearful about the kind of future they’ll be able to leave to their children. Americans have been hurting, but when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare. It’s a mindset that gave us political talking points, not serious solutions.”
Ernt delivered her speech using slightly more combative rhetoric than the address given last year by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.). Then, the high-ranking congresswoman pledged that the party was “working on a step-by-step solution to immigration reform” and didn’t explicitly mention the GOP’s repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Ernst, in contrast, challenged Obama to develop “a comprehensive plan” to defeat terrorists, after the president argued in his address that America was on the way to stopping the Islamic State militant group’s advance. The newly elected senator said the GOP would “keep fighting to repeal and replace” the health care law. And though Obama said Tuesday that “the shadow of crisis has passed,” Ernst painted a much different picture of the various conflicts the United States is engaged in around the world.
"You’ll see a lot of serious work in this new Congress," she said. "Some of it will occur where I stand tonight, in the Armed Services Committee room. This is where I’ll join committee colleagues -- Republicans and Democrats -- to discuss ways to support our exceptional military and its mission. This is where we’ll debate strategies to confront terrorism and the threats posed by Al Qaeda, ISIL, and those radicalized by them. We know threats like these can’t just be wished away."
Ernst also called on Obama to “tear down trade barriers,” approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and “simplify America’s outdated and loophole-ridden tax code” as she listed the new Republican-controlled Congress’ areas where the GOP believed it could find common ground with the president in his last two years in office.
BEFORE YOU GO
01/21/2015 3:05 AM EST
Obama Emphasizes U.S. Security Reliance On Shaky Foreign Partners
HuffPost's Akbar Shahid Ahmed reports:
President Barack Obama used his first State of the Union address after once again ramping up U.S. military involvement in the Middle East to describe his foreign policy as a judicious mix of military force and diplomacy -- and left no doubt he believes positive engagement with the international community is key to what he called "a safer, more prosperous world."
"I believe in a smarter kind of American leadership," Obama said. "We lead best when we combine military power with strong diplomacy; when we leverage our power with coalition building; when we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents."
The emphasis on diplomacy was nothing new for the Obama administration, but the president's multiple references to U.S. reliance on partners abroad invites scrutiny that may show those partners falling short of U.S. expectations.
01/21/2015 2:17 AM EST
From Nice-ish To Nasty: How 2016 GOP Contenders Responded To The State Of The Union
HuffPost's Christina Wilkie reports:
Likely Republican 2016 presidential candidates on Tuesday seemed to agree that President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address was off base. What they disagreed on was why. Responses issued by possible contenders after the hour-long speech ranged from civil, optimistic messages to angry visions of a world beset by terrorism.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush gave one of the sunnier Republican responses of the night -- sunnier, that is, for a put-down. "It's unfortunate President Obama wants to use the tax code to divide us -– instead of proposing reforms to create economic opportunity for every American," Bush said in a statement. "We can do better."
Mitt Romney, Bush's potential rival for the backing of the GOP establishment in 2016, also was measured in his response, calling the speech "disappointing" and "a missed opportunity to lead."
From there, the tenor of the rhetoric intensified.
01/21/2015 1:37 AM EST
Obama State Of The Union Address Highlights Battle For The Middle Class
More than anything, President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address signaled a fresh battle for the hearts and minds of America's beleaguered middle class -- and Republicans weren't having any of it.
Obama mentioned the middle class at least seven times and touted "working" people at least nine as he rolled out proposals to offer new child tax credits, raise the minimum wage, extend paid family leave and make college more affordable. He mentioned "families" 16 times.
But well before Obama's speech was over, House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office was firing off responses, declaring that Obama's "regulatory onslaught squeezes the very middle-class families he claims to be trying to help," and that he was threatening to veto what Republicans consider to be jobs bills.
01/21/2015 1:00 AM EST
GOP Mentions Immigration In State of The Union Rebuttal...But Only In Spanish
HuffPost's Elise Foley reports:
Earlier Tuesday, it appeared the GOP's Spanish-language rebuttal to the State of the Union would be exactly the same as the English-language one, just delivered by a Latino congressman instead of a senator who wants to make English the official U.S. language.
But when the speeches were delivered in the evening, there was at least one major difference -- one key to many Spanish-language audiences. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), delivering the official Republican rebuttal, did not utter the word "immigration" once. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) not only mentioned the issue, but said Republicans want to work on it with President Barack Obama.
"We should also work through the appropriate channels to create permanent solutions for our immigration system, modernize legal immigration and strengthen our economy. In the past, the president has expressed support for ideas like these, now we ask him to collaborate with us to get it done," Curbelo said in the address, translated by liberal group American Bridge (and checked by The Huffington Post).
01/21/2015 12:46 AM EST
Jason Chaffetz: Taxing Inheritance Is 'One Of The Most Immoral Things You Can Do'
HuffPost's Ryan Grim reports:
House and Senate Republicans are rejecting President Barack Obama’s suggestion to reform tax code that allows heirs to inherit extreme amounts of wealth largely tax-free.
“Let’s close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top 1 percent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth,” Obama said Tuesday night during his annual State of the Union address. “We can use that money to help more families pay for child care and send their kids to college.”
A variety of tax strategies exist to shield much of an inheritance from taxation. And that, said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), is as it should be. Chaffetz moved quickly from talking points to genuine anger in responding to the president’s proposal. “That’s a non-starter. The audacity, that he thinks the government has a right to people’s money? He wants to transfer wealth," Chaffetz said. "It’s one of the most immoral things you can do, is try to steal somebody’s inheritance, to steal it away from their family.”
01/21/2015 12:40 AM EST
Dreamers At State Of The Union Hope Obama Continues To Push Forward On Immigration
HuffPost's Elise Foley reports:
The White House and members of Congress often make political statements through their choice of guests for the State of the Union. There is no place that gets more attention than the first lady's box, where the guest list serves as an illustration of the president's priorities for the upcoming year. For the past few years, that list has included Dreamers: Alan Aleman attended as one of the first lady's guests in 2013. In 2014, it was Avila. And this year, 21-year-old Dreamer Ana Zamora was one of Michelle Obama's guests. Other undocumented immigrants, some of them Dreamers, also attended this year, as guests of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Reps. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.).
Even in a speech in which Obama said the word "immigration" only twice -- plus "immigrant" and "immigrants" once each -- the presence of those guests was meant to send a message that Democrats are committed to programs like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which allows Dreamers to remain in the country. House Republicans voted last week to end that policy, along with elements of the measures Obama announced in November, such as protections for parents.
Read the full story here.
01/21/2015 12:04 AM EST
State Of The Union Watchers Give Obama High Marks In Instant Poll
HuffPost's Ariel Levy reports:
Americans who watched President Barack Obama's State of the Union address largely approved, giving him better marks than they did for last year's speech, according to instant polling conducted by CNN.
Positive ratings from State of the Union watchers are the rule, not the exception. CNN found Obama getting high marks in all five annual State of the Union speeches they previously polled (the network didn't conduct a post-State of the Union poll in 2012). Former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton also received largely positive ratings.
Eighty-one percent of viewers had a somewhat positive or very positive opinion of the 2015 State of the Union, according to CNN -- up from 76 percent in 2014, and in line with ratings for Obama's speeches in 2011 and 2013.
01/21/2015 12:01 AM EST
Obama Gives Push To Restoring Voting Rights Act: 'The Right To Vote Is Sacred'
HuffPost's Jennifer Bendery reports:
President Barack Obama pushed Congress Tuesday night to restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, even though Republicans signaled last week they have no intention of doing so.
"We may go at it in campaign season, but surely we can agree that the right to vote is sacred; that it's being denied to too many; and that, on this 50th anniversary of the great march from Selma to Montgomery and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we can come together, Democrats and Republicans, to make voting easier for every single American," Obama said during his State of the Union address.
01/20/2015 11:17 PM EST
Obama Warns Lawmakers: Stay Away From Iran Talks
HuffPost's Ali Watkins reports:
President Obama warned lawmakers in his State of the Union address on Tuesday against interfering with his administration's nuclear negotiations with Iran, promising to veto any new sanctions legislation that makes it to his desk.
“New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails -- alienating America from its allies and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again,” Obama said. “It doesn’t make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.”
Read the full story here.
01/20/2015 11:15 PM EST
Howard Fineman: Joni Ernst Didn’t Say Much In Her SOTU Response
Howard Fineman joins HuffPost Live to weigh in on Sen. Joni Ernst’s Republican rebuttal to the State of the Union. Watch: