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Sen. Katie Britt paints an America in despair in GOP State of the Union response

WASHINGTON — Alabama freshman Sen. Katie Britt gave the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, lambasting the Democratic leader over a border crisis she said he “invited,” reckless spending, and a country she said was more dangerous than it was four years ago.

In a dark turn, Britt appeared to blame Biden for the murder of Laken Riley, the 22-year-old nursing student whom the president earlier said was murdered by an “illegal” during an unscripted moment of his speech.

“She was brutally murdered by one of the millions of illegal border crossers President Biden chose to release into our homeland,” Britt said. “As a mom, I can’t quit thinking about this; this could been my daughter. It could’ve been yours.”

Britt also blamed the president for an economy she said was squeezing Americans’ pocketbooks, with people “who did everything right” going hungry. She accused Biden of failing to adequately respond to the threat from China, and of using TikTok for his campaign — even as the president banned it for government employees. “Y’all, you can’t make this stuff up,” she said.

Britt at times seemed to mimic the president, lowering her voice to a whisper.

Biden did not invoke Trump directly in his remarks, and instead referred to a “former Republican president,” and his “predecessor.” Neither did Britt.

Britt was expected to sound an optimistic note in her remarks, harking back to Ronald Reagan’s declaration of American exceptionalism in his ‘Shining City on a Hill’ speech. Instead, Britt, at home in her kitchen, painted a darker picture, invoking Reagan’s famed question from a presidential debate against Democrat Jimmy Carter, “Just ask yourself, are you better off now than you were three years ago?”

Britt declared Biden “a dithering and diminished leader” who is “not in command” — moments after the president delivered an energetic address to Congress and the nation that saw him parry with Republicans in the audience. Biden was still at the Capitol after Britt had ended her remarks.

A rising conservative star, Britt took the task of delivering the response against the backdrop of a presidential election fight that is setting up to be waged by party leaders whose combined age is nearly four times her own.

Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala., delivers a response to President Joe Biden's State of the Union.
Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala., delivers a response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union.NBC News

She became the youngest Republican woman to be elected to the Senate and the first to represent Alabama when she was sworn in last year after garnering former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. She is a staunch conservative who has made immigration a top issue.

Now with Biden facing increasing skepticism over his age, Britt, 42, worked to sharpen this contrast after the president delivered his third State of the Union address on Thursday evening.

Republicans have sought to emphasize the obstacle for Democrats: In an advertisement that began airing Thursday, the super PAC supporting Trump questioned whether Biden “could even survive” a second term.

At the same time, Britt — with her husband, former NFL player Wesley Britt — is known for her close friendship with Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., and his wife, Gisele, a pairing that showcases how Americans on opposite sides of the aisle can look beyond their partisan differences. 

Britt, in her address, made an argument that the Republican Party is the party of family, sharing her perspective on kitchen table issues as a mother of two.

“Sen. Britt doesn’t have to talk abstractly or even think abstractly about how policies are affecting American families,” a source familiar with Britt’s remarks said. “She’s living through it.”

At the same time, the senator made an impassioned plea for parents “to get into the arena,” a tacit acknowledgment of the women voters who have trended away from the Republican Party in elections following Trump’s 2016 win.

Britt argued that “the country we know and love seems to be slipping away.” 

“It feels like the next generation will have fewer opportunities — and less freedom — than we did,” Britt said, sounding pained. “I worry my own children may not even get a shot at living their American Dreams.”

“The true, unvarnished State of our Union begins and ends with this: Our families are hurting. Our country can do better,” she said.

Britt argued that the country has been made more dangerous by Democrats who have “coddled criminals” and defunded the police. Punishing families are “sky-high” childcare costs and mortgage rates.

“The American people are scraping by while the President proudly proclaims Bidenomics is working! Goodness y’all, bless his heart,” she said. “We know better.”

In one of several references to Biden’s advanced age, Britt lambasted the president as “a permanent politician” who has spent more years in office “than I’ve even been alive.”

Central to Britt’s case is that voters are not being heard by Biden and Democrats. “Frankly, a large part of our message is going to be that the president’s out of touch,” the source said. 

The Alabama senator is being elevated as voters have expressed deep dissatisfaction with the choices they are being offered.

A New York Times/Siena College poll published over the weekend showed a majority of voters hold an unfavorable view of both Biden and Trump, with even those who supported the 81-year-old president in 2020 responding that he is “just too old” to be effective.

In announcing that Britt would give the party response, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the senator “an unapologetic optimist.”

The sentiment was among the reasons House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., gave to Britt about why he believed she should be the one to deliver the speech, a source familiar with the conversation said. 

“I do remember the speaker saying, ‘Look, I think we need the kind of ‘shining city on a hill’ Reaganesque Republican … that person who can bring not only strength but optimism for the future. And you’re somebody who I think can deliver that message,’” the source said.

Her address comes as Republicans continue to struggle with female voters in suburbs and highly educated enclaves, who have trended away from the party following Trump’s election.

“Republicans are elevating someone who looks and sounds like the demographic that they know Trump is struggling with,” said Karen Finney, a top adviser to Hillary Clinton during her 2016 presidential campaign. “They know they have trouble with women.” 

Britt’s address comes as statewide ballot questions on abortion have yielded victories for abortion rights advocates in Republican-leaning states, and as efforts are underway to get protections on the ballot in 2024 in at least a dozen more. 

Britt has taken on a leadership role with Republicans behind the scenes, arguing that there is a path to talking about in vitro fertilization, the source familiar with her remarks said.

When a Supreme Court ruling in Alabama threatened fertility clinics in the state, Britt made the case to Trump that a truly pro-family stance should embrace IVF, a source familiar with the conversation confirmed. The decision in Alabama ruled that embryos created during the process of in vitro fertilization can be considered children under state law, raising questions about what destroying them could mean. Biden, early in his address, called on Congress to protect access to invitro fertilization, bringing Democrats to their feet.

Trump has evaded staking out positions on the most contentious fights over reproductive rights. But soon after the call, Trump issued a post-ruling statement advising that he would “strongly support the availability of IVF” and urging the Alabama Legislature to find an immediate solution to preserve its access.

She addressed her support for it in her response, a source said.

Before her speech, allies of the president noted Britt’s ascent.

“She’s a rock star,” a Democratic strategist said. “She could very well could be the face of the post-Trump GOP. And maybe our first woman president in 2028.”

“She’s an incredible politician and could win a lot of suburban women in a huge way,” the strategist added.

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