GOP's varied responses to SOTU address reflect party divisions

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WASHINGTON -- The official Republican rebuttal to the president's State of the Union address was delivered by Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the House GOP's highest-ranking woman, who asserted that President Barack Obama was making it tougher for a lot of Americans.

"Right now, the president's policies are making people's lives harder. Republicans have plans to close the gap."

But that was hardly the end of it, as a diverse group of Republicans joined in to respond to the president's State of the Union address Tuesday. Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, two Tea Party favorites, also delivered high-profile responses, pushing back on the president's message with a sharp ideological edge.

Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, an ally of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the first Cuban American elected to Congress, delivered another widely seen response, translating much of Ms. McMorris Rodgers' leadership-approved speech into Spanish.

The flurry of reactions partly reflects the ongoing battle for power within GOP ranks, where competing blocs -- from congressional leaders to conservative advocacy organizations -- have quarreled over the party's platform and its playbook for divided government.

In an interview, Mr. Paul brushed off the suggestion that he was clashing with Ms. McMorris Rodgers: "I don't consider it to be competing. It's just that we live in an age where you can get your opinion out there, but if you don't videotape it and send it out, nobody listens. So we're just trying to get more people to listen."

For Ms. McMorris Rodgers, the low-key chair of the House Republican conference, the rebuttal slot was an opportunity to step into the national spotlight. The farm-raised legislator struck an inclusive tone, blending talk of her family -- she has three young children, including a son with Down syndrome -- with platitudes and policy pitches.

"I'd like to share a more hopeful Republican vision," Ms. McMorris Rodgers said.

On health care, she said Republicans will continue to fight to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and knocked the administration for the rocky rollout of the president's signature law.

"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."

Over the past week, Ms. McMorris Rodgers' aides and other House GOP leaders have been promoting her, using her prominent perch as part of a counter-offensive to Democrats' aggressive criticism of the GOP approach to women's issues.

Ms. McMorris Rodgers is the first female Republican to give the party response since 2000.


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