Updated at 4:05 pm EST
When President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Tuesday, House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, the top-ranking woman in Congress, will deliver her party’s response.
She’s been the party’s face on issues related to women, including leading passage of the Violence Against Women Act, while advocating for reducing federal spending and increasing energy development including from hydropower.
She often talks about policy issues through the lens of her own personal experience as a mom of three young children. Her oldest, Cole, is six and was born with Trisomy 21, or Down syndrome. She became the first lawmaker to give birth three times while in Congress when her daughter Brynn Catherine was born in November.
In her televised address following the president’s speech to a joint session of Congress, McMorris Rodgers said today, she plans 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.”
The president’s speech comes at a key moment for Obama, as the U.S. economy improved to its best six-month performance since the recession ended, though polls show Americans increasingly dislike the president’s handling of it. In a Bloomberg National Poll last month, 58 percent of Americans disapproved of Obama’s economic stewardship, his worst showing since September 2011.
McMorris Rodgers, the House’s fourth-ranking Republican, becomes the first woman selected to respond to a State of the Union address since 2008, when Kathleen Sebelius, then the Democratic governor of Kansas, responded to Republican President George W. Bush. Sebelius later joined President Barack Obama’s Cabinet as secretary of Health and Human Services.
The House leader is the first Republican woman picked since Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who jointly responded with Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee to President Bill Clinton in 2000.
McMorris Rodgers is an “excellent choice” for the high-profile assignment, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement, adding she’d “share an alternative approach to the President’s plans to grow an already enormous federal bureaucracy.”
House Speaker John Boehner, in announcing the choice of the fifth-term congresswoman, pointed to Rodgers’ roots in a farming family in Kettle Falls, Washington, where she worked the family’s orchard and fruit stand.
The first in her family to graduate from college, and then obtain an MBA, she became the minority leader in Washington’s state House.
“Through the lens of her family’s experiences, Cathy will share our vision for a better America built on a thriving middle class, guided by a fierce belief in life and liberty, and grounded in greater trust between citizens and their government,” Boehner said in a statement.
And notably, McMorris Rodgers will appear at the start of a year of midterm election campaigns in which her party is seeking control of the Senate as well as the House — following a presidential election in which Republicans suffered the worst gender gap since the Gallup Poll started tracking it — Obama won by 12 percent among women, Republican Mitt Romney by 8 percent among men.