After State of the Union, Nikki Haley Won’t Have GOP’s Last Word

After South Carolina's Haley wraps up her remarks, other Republicans will deliver their own responses to Obama’s final State of the Union. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
After South Carolina's Haley wraps up her remarks, other Republicans will deliver their own responses to Obama’s final State of the Union. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted January 12, 2016 at 5:00am

When South Carolina Gov. Nikki R. Haley ends her response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night, hers will not be the last word for the Republican Party.  

After the rising star wraps up her remarks, at least two Republicans — and likely more, including some of the party’s presidential aspirants — will deliver their own responses to Obama’s final speech of this kind. For starters, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a seventh-term Republican from Florida, will deliver a response in Spanish, and Nevada conservative activist Wayne Allyn Root will deliver a response on behalf of the Tea Party Express.

In a statement on Jan. 8, Diaz-Balart offered a preview of the tone of his remarks. “The United States and the American people face grave challenges, all of which can be overcome with leadership in Washington, D.C., that understands the greatness of our country,” he said. “We need a president who will unify, not divide; a president who will stand with our allies and stand up to enemies of freedom.”

Tea Party Express co-founder Sal Russo said that in a year when political outsiders are dominating the presidential polls, he thought it was right to have someone such as Root, who does not hold elected office, respond to the president on behalf of conservative activists. “It is appropriate for the Tea Party Express to select a Washington ‘outsider’ who has had a remarkable career as a candidate, author, commentator and businessman while arguing persuasively for a more limited federal government,” Russo said.

The tradition of an opposition party’s televised response began in 1966, when Illinois Sen. Everett Dirksen and Michigan Rep. Gerald Ford, both Republicans, responded to Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson. During Ronald Reagan’s presidency, several lawmakers responded to his addresses, but through the presidencies of both Bushes and Bill Clinton, the opposition party had typically settled on one respondent.

In 2014, there was an uptick with three responses: an official Republican one by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington; one from Utah Sen. Mike Lee, representing the tea party; and one by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who also offered one in 2013.

The next year, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst delivered the party’s official response. She was joined by a larger cast, including Paul, Florida Rep. Curt Clawson on behalf of the tea party, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who delivered the party’s message in Spanish.

In Curbelo’s remarks, he mentioned immigration — Ernst did not. A spokesman for Diaz-Balart did not respond when asked how his remarks might differ from Haley’s official response.  

With the large number of lawmakers running for president this year, it is nearly certain that one or more presidential candidates will offer a response. Cruz, who has said he will not attend the address, said he will offer a recorded response to Obama, as he did last year. A spokesman for Paul said Monday the Republican presidential hopeful would release a video response again this year.  

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