WASHINGTON — Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the highest-ranking GOP woman in Congress, will give the party’s response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday.
The Washington state congresswoman chairs the House Republican conference, is a mother with a new baby and two other children and often speaks out on issues affecting families. She’s in her fifth term representing a district in eastern Washington. She grew up in a farm family and as a girl worked at the family’s orchard and fruit stand in the small town of Kettle Falls.
McMorris Rodgers stands out in a GOP conference dominated by older white men and her address on national television comes as the GOP is seeking to shore up support with female voters, whom Obama won in 2012 with 55 percent.
She said she’s looking forward to speaking to “Americans in every corner of the country on Tuesday and to share our Republican vision for a better future — one that trusts the American people and doesn’t limit where you finish because of where you started.” McMorris Rogers was the first in her family to graduate from college and helped pay her way with jobs at McDonalds and as a motel maid.
The annual response is often awarded to promising politicians, and has included Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. But it can be tricky to give successfully since it’s before a camera instead of the live audience and rapturous applause that the president receives. Some, like GOP Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose 2009 address was widely panned, have botched the opportunity.
The State of the Union speech is an annual opportunity for the president to lay out his agenda before a national television audience. Obama is giving the address as he’s sagging in public opinion polls and facing potential Democratic Party losses in this year’s midterm elections. Republicans are focusing on the troubled roll-out of Obama’s health care law but also want to offer voters a positive GOP vision in the months leading up to this fall’s voting.
McMorris Rodgers is a protege of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, whose support helped her win election last year as GOP conference chair, the No. 4 leadership post. McMorris Rogers’ gender was a help in her leadership race, which she won over Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., who came from the Southern conservative bloc that increasingly is the face of the party.
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 party’s House and Senate leaders jointly announced her selection on Thursday.
“Cathy McMorris Rodgers is proof that with humility, hard work and dedication, you can overcome any obstacle — a story to which many Americans can relate,” Boehner said.