WASHINGTON - Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers struck a decidedly personal note in the official Republican response Tuesday night to President Obama's State of the Union address.
McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., the highest ranking female member of the House of Representatives and the first in her family to graduate from college, spoke in length about her life story in building the Republican case that President Obama's address fell short in connecting with the real problems facing Americans.
"I grew up working at my family's orchard and fruit stand in Kettle Falls, a small town in eastern Washington, getting up before dawn with my brother to pick apples," McMorris Rodgers said. "The chance to go from my Washington to this one was unexpected. I came to Congress to help empower people, not politicians; to grow the working middle class, not the government."
She said that the president's speech failed to offer solutions for the real challenges facing real Americans and that his policies "are making people's lives harder."
"Tonight the President made more promises that sound good, but won't actually solve the problems actually facing Americans," McMorris Rodgers said.
"The President talks a lot about income inequality," she said. "But the real gap we face today is one of opportunity inequality, and with this administration's policies, that gap has become far too wide. We see this gap growing every single day."
McMorris Rodgers, a mother of three, is the only member of Congress to have ever given birth three times while in office. When her oldest son Cole was born, he was diagnosed with Down syndrome.
"The doctors told us he could have endless complications, heart defects, even early Alzheimer's," she recalled. "They told us all the problems. But when we looked at our son, we saw only possibilities. We saw a gift from God. Today we see a 6-year-old boy who dances to Bruce Springsteen, who reads above grade level, and who is the best big brother in the world."
In addressing the Affordable Care Act, McMorris Rodgers told the story of a constituent who had written to her saying that her premiums would go up by $700 under the health care law.
"We shouldn't go back to the way things were, but this law is not working," she said. "Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government's, and that whether you're a boy with Down syndrome or a woman with breast cancer, you can find coverage and a doctor who will treat you."
In his address, President Obama once again called for comprehensive immigration reform. And while McMorris Rodgers signaled that Republicans are ready to take up the issue, they prefer a "step-by-step solution."
"We're working on a step-by-step solution to immigration reform by first securing our borders and making sure America will always attract the best, brightest, and hardest working from around the world," she said.
McMorris Rogers did not directly respond to the president's call for increasing the national minimum wage to $10.10, but said that Republicans are putting the emphasis on lower taxes as a way to increase people's bottom line.
"With too many Americans living paycheck to paycheck, we have solutions to help you take home more of your pay - through lower taxes, cheaper energy costs, and affordable health care," she said.
In closing her rebuttal to the president's annual speech, McMorris Rodgers grew teary-eyed while offering her thanks for the men and women in uniform, speaking specifically about a fallen hero from her home state of Washington.
"We will give thanks to the brave men and women who have answered America's call to freedom, like Sgt. Jacob Hess from Spokane, who recently gave his life to protect all of ours," she said. "So, tonight, I simply offer a prayer - a prayer for Sgt. Hess' family, your family, and for our larger American family."
In addition to McMorris Rodgers' official rebuttal to the president, there were three other Republican responses, reflecting the many divisions currently within the party.
Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen delivered a parallel speech to McMorris Rodgers' in Spanish; Utah Sen. Mike Lee delivered the tea party's official response; and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul offered a rebuttal of his own.