Saying that President Obama has failed on his promise to lift the country out of its economic doldrums, Republicans responding to his State of the Union address Monday night offered a "more hopeful" approach to empower Americans to improve their lives.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, chosen to deliver the official GOP response, pushed back at accusations that Republicans are obstructionists devoid of ideas, saying the party has a solid game plan to move the nation forward.
"Too many people are falling further and further behind because, right now, the president’s policies are making people’s lives harder," said McMorris Rodgers, whose State of the Union response was among at least four delivered by Republicans, including rebuttals by the conservative Tea Party movement and individual lawmakers.
"Republicans have … plans that focus on jobs first without more spending, government bailouts and red tape."
But McMorris Rodgers, unlike past GOP rebuttals, focused more on her party's goals and less on criticizing Obama, saying the "Republican vision" is one that "empowers you, not the government."
"It’s a vision that is fair and offers the promise of a better future for every American," said McMorris Rodgers, who as the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference is fourth on the House GOP leadership depth chart. "It’s one that champions free markets – and trusts people to make their own decisions, not a government that decides for you," she said.
"As Republicans, we advance these plans every day because we believe in a government that trusts people and doesn’t limit where you finish because of where you started."
While the president Tuesday spoke of a need to address income inequality between the rich and rest of the country, McMorris Rodgers said the Republican plan also "is one that dreams big for everyone and turns its back on no one."
"That is what we stand for — for an America that is every bit as compassionate as it is exceptional," she said.
The Evergreen State Republican also echoed a familiar GOP theme of attacking Obamacare, though she suggested the country's health care system needs improving.
"No, we shouldn’t go back to the way things were, but the president’s health care law is not working." she said. "Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government’s."
Regarding immigration reform — a subject that for years has caused divisions with the GOP — McMorris Rodgers said her party is "working on a step-by-step solution" by "first securing our borders and making sure America will always attract the best, brightest, and hardest-working from around the world."
House Democrats, in a rebuttal to McMorris Rodgers' rebuttal, accused her of rehashing and promoting old and disproven GOP talking points.
"Congressional Republicans’ record-low approval ratings can’t be fixed by a fresh face as long as they keep the same rotten agenda," said Josh Schwerin, a spokesman with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the fundraising arm of House Democrats.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, while delivering the Tea Party response to the president's speech, blamed the nation's widening income gaps on bloated government, insecurity in the middle class and "cronyist privilege at the top."
"We are facing an inequality crisis — one to which the president has paid lip-service, but seems uninterested in truly confronting or correcting," Lee said.
"Where does this new inequality come from? From government — every time it takes rights and opportunities away from the American people and gives them instead to politicians, bureaucrats and special interests."
The first-term senator vowed that a "new generation" of Tea Party-backed Republicans on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, will work to usher in reforms "to help poor families work their way into the middle class, to help middle-class families start to get ahead, and to level the playing field and put corporate and political insiders back to work for the rest of us."
Lee added that Tea Party principles aren't solely tethered to spending cuts but also are based on a policy of "fixing broken government."
"These principles and these policies will work … not just by making government smaller but by promoting bigger citizens, stronger families and more heroic communities," he said.
Another Tea Party favorite, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., delivered his own response to the president's speech, warning that the nation's ballooning federal debt "hangs like the "Sword of Damocles" while reminding Obama "he cannot pursue his liberal agenda without raising taxes or bankrupting the country."
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., also gave a State of the Union response in Spanish. And House Republican leaders encouraged their members to use social media to deliver their own rebuttals.
Many political experts, including some Republicans, say the multiple GOP rebuttals underscore a glaring crack in party unity brought on by a growing distrust of party leaders by voters.
"The fact that you have multiple responses underscores the lack of confidence the GOP grassroots has in the leadership's official response," said Keith Appell, a Republican strategist with CRC Public Relations. "Their feeling is, the words aren't worth the breath that's being wasted."
"This is so indicative of the disconnect between the Republican leadership in Washington and grassroots conservatives, rank-and-file Republicans and Tea Party supporters across the country."
But not all Republicans agreed that the multiple responses showcase intra-party discord.
"I think it's wonderful," said Cleta Mitchell, a Washington lawyer and political strategist who has represented many Republican congressional candidates and Tea Party groups. "The whole State of the Union spectacle is bizarre in and of itself, and I think the more [responses] the merrier.
"What it really demonstrates is the total lack of solemnity for this occasion, which I think is wonderful. The more of a circus and a spectacle we can make of it the better."