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A Brief History of Republican SOTU Responses

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Cathy McMorris Rodgers is the fifth woman from the GOP to deliver a televised opposition response and the second youngest member overall in a congressional leadership position to do so

cathymcmorrisrodgers10.jpgLate last week it was announced that five-term Washington U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers would deliver the Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address on Tuesday evening.

As chair of the House Republican Conference, Representative McMorris Rodgers is the highest-ranking Republican woman in Congress.

In the press release issued by House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell the word 'family' was used five times in McMorris Rodgers' biography, highlighting her three young children.

To be sure, the Washington U.S. House member's selection does continue a general trend by the GOP to put forth younger faces before the public to deliver these televised speeches.

At 44 years old, McMorris Rodgers is the youngest of the five women ever to deliver a televised Republican response to a presidential State of the Union Address - and just the second woman to give the speech solo.

The only other woman to deliver a solo GOP opposition response was then New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman in January 1995 during Bill Clinton's first term.

Whitman was 48 years old at that time.

The other three Republican women to give such speeches are:

· Illinois U.S. Representative Charlotte Reid in January 1968 (54 years old): delivering comments along with seven other House members and eight U.S. Senators that year

· Washington U.S. Representative Jennifer Dunn in January 1999 (57 years old): with Oklahoma U.S. Representative Steve Largent

· Maine U.S. Senator Susan Collins in January 2000 (47 years old): with Tennessee U.S. Senator Bill Frist

Excluding the GOP 1968 response, in which 16 members of Congress spoke, McMorris Rodgers is the fifth youngest Republican to give a televised opposition response to the SOTU of the 24 who gave solo addresses or shared the podium with just one other speaker.

The four younger Republicans to give solo or joint responses were:

· Oklahoma U.S. Representative J.C. Watts in February 1997: 39 years
· Wisconsin U.S. Representative Paul Ryan in January 2011: 40 years
· Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio in February 2013: 41 years
· Oklahoma U.S. Representative Steve Largent in January 1999: 44 years (16,184 days)

The oldest Republican to deliver a SOTU response was Kansas U.S. Senator Bob Dole in January 1996 - just a half-year before he would resign from his seat during his failed presidential run.

Dole was 72 years old at that time.

On the other end of the spectrum, Wisconsin U.S. Representative William Steiger - one of the 16 Republicans to give comments in 1968 - was just 29 years old during his first term in the chamber.

Overall, GOPers from 20 states have delivered televised opposition responses since the first such speech in 1966.

Officeholders from Illinois, Michigan, and Tennessee have done so four times, with three each from Arizona, California, and Wisconsin, and two from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.

Prior to 1998, Republicans selected to give such responses were usually Senate or House minority leaders (Senators Everett Dirksen, Howard Baker, Bob Dole; Representatives Gerald Ford, John Rhodes), majority leaders (Senators Dole, Trent Lott), or minority whips (Senators Thomas Kuchel, Ted Stevens).

Other recent speakers did go on to secure leadership positions within the party, with J.C. Watts (1997) becoming the Republican Conference Chairman a year later in 1998, Bill Frist (2000) becoming Senate Majority leader three years later in 2003, and Bob McDonnell (2010) becoming chair of the Republican Governor's Association a year later in 2011.

At 44, McMorris Rodgers is eight years younger than the average GOP speaker delivering such opposition responses over the last 45+ years.

The only other Republican in a Congressional leadership position to deliver a SOTU response who was younger than McMorris Rodgers was Minority Leader Howard Baker of Tennessee in 1968 at 42 years old.

Republican SOTU Opposition Responses, 1966-2014

Year
Office
Response
State
Age
1966
US Representative
Gerald Ford
MI
52
 
US Senator
Everett Dirksen
IL
70
1967
US Representative
Gerald Ford
MI
53
 
US Senator
Everett Dirksen
IL
71
1968
US Representative
William Steiger
WI
29
 
US Representative
Bob Mathias
CA
37
 
US Senator
Howard Baker
TN
42
 
US Senator
John Tower
TX
42
 
US Representative
George Bush
TX
43
 
US Senator
Robert Griffin
MI
44
 
US Representative
Richard Poff
VA
44
 
US Representative
Al Quie
MN
44
 
US Representative
Melvin Laird
WI
45
 
US Senator
Charles Percy
IL
48
 
US Senator
Peter Dominick
CO
52
 
US Representative
Charlotte Reid
IL
54
 
US Representative
Gerald Ford
MI
54
 
US Senator
Thomas Kuchel
CA
57
 
US Senator
George Murphy
CA
65
 
US Senator
Hugh Scott
PA
67
1978
US Senator
Howard Baker
TN
52
 
US Representative
John Rhodes
AZ
61
1979
US Senator
Howard Baker
TN
53
 
US Representative
John Rhodes
AZ
62
1980
US Senator
Ted Stevens
AK
56
 
US Representative
John Rhodes
AZ
63
1994
US Senator
Bob Dole
KS
70
1995
Governor
Christine Todd Whitman
NJ
48
1996
US Senator
Bob Dole
KS
72
1997
US Representative
J.C. Watts
OK
39
1998
US Senator
Trent Lott
MS
56
1999
US Representative
Steve Largent
OK
44
 
US Representative
Jennifer Dunn
WA
57
2000
US Senator
Susan Collins
ME
47
 
US Senator
Bill Frist
TN
47
2010
Governor
Bob McDonnell
VA
55
2010
US Representative
Paul Ryan
WI
40
2012
Governor
Mitch Daniels
IN
62
2013
US Senator
Marco Rubio
FL
41
2014
US Representative
Cathy McMorris Rodgers
WA
44
Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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