The former Iowa farm girl best known for castrating hogs made her national debut tonight: Freshman Sen. Joni Ernst, giving the official GOP response to President Obama's State of the Union, used the opportunity to introduce herself to a wider audience.
Describing herself as "a mother, a soldier, and a newly elected senator from the great State of Iowa," she spoke of her childhood in a "little town" called Red Oak where she said she had "only one good pair of shoes."
On the policy front, she called out Obama for not approving the Keystone Pipeline and laid out a laundry list of conservative priorities that included repealing Obamacare, balancing the budget, confronting Iran, and "defend[ing] life."
Lest you think Republicans and the president agree on nothing, there was one area of overlap in the two speeches: free trade. From Ernst's prepared remarks:
Let's tear down trade barriers in places like Europe and the Pacific. Let's sell more of what we make and grow in America over there so we can boost manufacturing, wages, and jobs right here, at home.
This mirrored Obama's comments on the issue in which he (rather bravely) bucked many in his party who oppose free trade agreements. From his prepared remarks:
Look, I'm the first one to admit that past trade deals haven't always lived up to the hype…But ninety-five percent of the world's customers live outside our borders, and we can't close ourselves off from those opportunities. More than half of manufacturing executives have said they're actively looking at bringing jobs back from China. Let's give them one more reason to get it done.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), considered by some to be a frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president in 2016, gave his own rebuttal. He took a more pessimistic tack, literally beginning his remarks with, "I wish I had better news for you, but… All is not well in America. America is adrift. Something is clearly wrong." He went on to lament the "undercurrent of unease" in places like Ferguson, Missouri. From his prepared remarks:
There is a tension that has become visible in the protests in every major American city. As Congressman John Lewis put it: "There is a growing discontent in this country. "
I think peace will come when those of us who have enjoyed the American Dream become aware of those who are missing out on the American Dream. The future of our country will be secure when we break down the wall that separates us from "the other America."
Like Ernst, Paul took aim at Obamacare, saying it "takes away a patient's right to choose" and blasting the president for lying when he said people could keep their doctors if they liked them. But unlike Ernst, he proceded to touch on a series of libertarian hot buttons: ending corporate welfare, forcing Congress to live under the laws it passes, protecting Americans from government snooping, and—a new twist?—auditing the Pentagon.
The Tea Party response came from newly elected Florida Rep. Curt Clawson. He was more upbeat, talking up the importance of "embracing diversity," saying "we are all the same," and even breaking into Spanish at one point. Of course, he was careful to limit his plaudits to legal immigrants, adding that securing our border must come first. Still, with the president's approval rating inching up for the first time in months, Clawson's "happy warrior" tone was an interesting (and probably clever) choice.