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Arkansas governor will deliver Republican Party’s response to Biden’s State of the Union address

President readies talk to Congress by Alex Thomas | February 3, 2023 at 4:16 a.m.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (left) and U.S. Rep. Juan Ciscomani, R-Ariz., are shown in these undated file photos. Sanders will give the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s 2023 State of the Union address, congressional GOP leaders announced Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. Ciscomani will give the Republican address in Spanish. (Left, AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack; right, AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON -- Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders will give the Republican response to President Joe Biden's State of the Union address next week, congressional GOP leaders announced Thursday.

The selection of Sanders comes less than a month since the former White House press secretary took office and became the first female governor in Arkansas' history. Sanders, 40, is also the youngest governor in the country serving in office.

Biden will give his second State of the Union address at 8 p.m. Central on Tuesday before members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, administration officials and guests.

Sanders will deliver the response from Little Rock once the president concludes his address in the U.S. Capitol. Arizona Rep. Juan Ciscomani will give the Republican address in Spanish that evening as well.

The Republican response presents an opportunity for the party to present alternatives to Biden's actions and policy goals.

"I am grateful for this opportunity to address the nation and contrast the GOP's optimistic vision for the future against the failures of President Biden and the Democrats," Sanders said in a news release. "We are ready to begin a new chapter in the story of America, to be written by a new generation of leaders ready to defend our freedom against the radical left and expand access to quality education, jobs, and opportunity for all."

The address follows a turbulent start to the new GOP-controlled House of Representatives, which began with lawmakers holding multiple rounds of voting on a new speaker before electing Kevin McCarthy. The House has since moved to taking up the Republicans' "Commitment to America" legislative agenda.

The timing of the address also comes as Republicans have their sights on the 2024 election, when Biden's first term in office would be nearing its end. Former President Donald Trump, whom Sanders worked under as press secretary for two years, launched his bid for a second term shortly after November's midterm elections. Former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley is expected to announce her presidential bid later this month, and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson -- Sanders' predecessor -- is considering a possible run for office.

"While President Biden keeps repeating old mistakes and failing Americans, a rising generation of Republican governors are fighting for families, advancing new solutions and winning," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a release.

"I am excited for the nation to hear from Governor Sanders on Tuesday and witness a sharp contrast with this exhausted and failing administration."

McCarthy said Sanders has incorporated "new ideas for a changing future" with skills exhibited in other leaders, in which he named Sanders' father, former Gov. Mike Huckabee. Sanders was 13 years old when her father became Arkansas' governor in July 1996.

"She is a servant-leader of true determination and conviction," McCarthy said. "I'm thrilled Sarah will share her extraordinary story and bold vision for a better America on Tuesday. Everyone, including President Biden, should listen carefully."

Sanders' response will mark the second time an Arkansas governor has given a State of the Union response. Bill Clinton helped deliver the Democratic Party's response to President Ronald Reagan's 1985 address.

Sanders entered the governor's office Jan. 10 with Republicans holding the state's top executive offices and super-majorities in both General Assembly chambers. She did not waste any time taking up a conservative agenda, signing multiple executive orders on her first day in office, including actions directed at freezing government hiring and preventing the teaching of critical race theory, an educational framework focused on racism in existing laws and institutions. Republicans across the country have made critical race theory a regular focus of criticism.

Members of Arkansas' congressional delegation welcomed the news. Sen. John Boozman of Rogers said Republicans are grateful to have Sanders and other leaders "who are leading the fight against reckless policies and focusing on making the lives of families better in Arkansas and across the country."

"In all my years of friendship with Sarah she has constantly put faith, family and Arkansas first," Boozman said in a news release. "We have a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the future, and now all Americans will have the opportunity to hear the Republican vision about the path forward, which I know she will deliver with heart and boldness."

Sen. Tom Cotton expressed confidence in Sanders' ability to "present the Republican case for strong families, economic prosperity, and military strength."

"Under President Biden, America has stumbled from crisis to crisis, both at home and on the world stage," the senator from Little Rock said in a released statement. "... Our governor is a champion for conservative values who will contrast sharply with President Biden's divisive, weak leadership."

Sanders served as campaign manager for Boozman's 2010 Senate campaign and later worked as a senior adviser for Cotton's 2014 Senate campaign. Boozman and Cotton defeated Democratic incumbents -- Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, respectively -- in their races.

Rep. Bruce Westerman, a Republican from Hots Springs, described Sanders as "a true conservative trailblazer and defender of freedom" in a tweet celebrating the announcement. Rep. Rick Crawford, a Jonesboro Republican, called Sanders "not only a great representation of our state but of our party."


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