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Gov. Reynolds will deliver the Republican response to President Biden’s State of the Union address


Gov. Kim Reynolds appears on Sean Hannity’s show in February 2021. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Tuesday that Gov. Kim Reynolds will deliver the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech next week. In a written statement, McConnell praised Reynolds’ “brave, bold, and successful leadership” as an example of the work Republican governors are doing.

“While Democrats in Washington have failed, Republicans across the country are stepping up — and America will be better off hearing Governor Reynolds’ Iowa story,” McConnell said.

In the same written statement, Reynolds denounced Biden for “governing from the far-left, ignoring the problems of working-class Americans while pushing an agenda that stifles free speech, free thought, and economic freedom.”

The Constitution states the president “shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” The first two presidents, George Washington and John Adams, delivered State of the Union speeches to Congress, but Thomas Jefferson discontinued the tradition. Jefferson believed the speech seemed like a vestige of monarchy, and chose to send a written State of the Union message to Congress instead. Every president followed Jefferson’s example until 1913, when Woodrow Wilson delivered a speech instead.

Since Wilson, every president except one has delivered the State of the Union as a speech. The lone exception was Iowa-born Herbert Hoover, who took Jefferson’s approach.

The tradition of the opposition delivering a response dates back to 1966, when Republicans demanded equal time from television networks to respond to President Lyndon Johnson’s State of the Union.

The first two responses featured two Republican leaders from the House of Representatives and one from the Senate, but the 1968 response featured 16 Republicans countering Johnson’s speech, ushering in a period that often had large teams of opposition party politicians responding to the State of the Union. A response by a single politician didn’t become common until 1990, and in 2011, both parties started to have a politician deliver a response in Spanish in addition to the politician delivering one in English.

So far, the Republicans have not announced if there will be a State of the Union response in Spanish this year. It is unlikely that Reynolds will deliver a multilingual speech.

It’s commonplace in American political journalism that the State of Union response is an important event that will boost the respondent’s chances as a future presidential candidate. Given that the responses quickly drop out of public discourse, it’s not clear why this piece of received wisdom persists.

Of the 100 ambitious politicians who have participated in State of Union responses, only four have gone to become president. George H.W. Bush was one of the 16 Republicans in the 1968 response, but it would be another 20 years before he ran for president and won. Joe Biden took part in the 1983 and 1984 group responses, three and a half decades before he was elected president. Arkansas governor Bill Clinton was one of two Democrats delivering the response to President Reagan’s 1985 speech. Clinton won his first term as president seven years later.

The fourth president was Gerald Ford, who was never elected president, vice president or to any office other than a House seat from Michigan. President Nixon appointed Ford vice president in 1973, after Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s elected vice president, resigned as he prepared to plead No Contest to criminal charges. Ford became president the following year when Nixon resigned to avoid being impeached.

Sen. Joni Ernst’s story about wearing bread bags to school, which she told when she delivered the 2015 response to President Obama’s State of the Union, momentarily attracted popular attention, as people debated whether it made more sense to wear bread bags inside shoes or over them. But the only long-lasting impression created by a State of the Union response came in 2013, when Sen. Marco Rubio interrupted his remarks to take a drink of water.

Rubio ran for president in the next election, finishing third in the Iowa Republican Caucus in February 2016, before dropping out of the race the following month.

President Biden will deliver the 2022 State of the Union address on Tuesday, March 1, at 8 p.m. (central time). Reynolds’ remarks will follow after the conclusion of the speech.


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