Home News Katie Britt, With Smiles and Menace, Delivers G.O.P. Response to Biden

Katie Britt, With Smiles and Menace, Delivers G.O.P. Response to Biden

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Katie Britt, With Smiles and Menace, Delivers G.O.P. Response to Biden

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With a sunny, inviting smile, Senator Katie Britt of Alabama welcomed Americans into her kitchen on Thursday night.

Many soon backed away nervously.

In the Republican Party’s official response to President Biden’s State of the Union address, Ms. Britt delivered a jarring speech that toggled between an increasingly strained cheerfulness and a fierce glare as she gave ominous warnings about illegal immigration.

Ms. Britt, 42, has been seen as a rising Republican star and floated as a possible running mate for former President Donald J. Trump. But in the biggest moment of her fledgling political career, she delivered a tonally uneven speech that was made more unusual by the setting of her own house in Montgomery, Ala., where she sat at her kitchen table and painted a dark picture of an America in decline.

“Our commander in chief is not in command,” Ms. Britt said. “The free world deserves better than a dithering and diminished leader.”

Her comments were in line with messages Republicans have increasingly used to criticize Mr. Biden at the start of the election year, but her 17-minute speech seemed likely to be remembered more for her disconcerting performance. She spoke in grim detail about a child victim of sex trafficking by drug cartels and the recent killing of a Georgia nursing student in which a Venezuelan migrant has been charged.

“That could’ve been my daughter,” Ms. Britt said. “It could’ve been yours.”

Previous State of the Union rebuttals have been delivered from behind a lectern in official settings, but Ms. Britt chose a domestic backdrop, trying to underscore her argument that Mr. Biden represents a threat to prosperity for American families.

But the scene seemed to confuse viewers on social media, where Ms. Britt was mocked by some for using a dramatic, breathy voice to deliver critiques of the president.

“Under his administration, families are worse off — our communities are less safe, and our country is less secure,” she said. “I just wish he understood what real families are facing around kitchen tables just like this one.”

Mr. Trump praised her speech.

“Katie Britt was a GREAT contrast to an Angry, and obviously very Disturbed, ‘President,’” he wrote on his social media site. “She was compassionate and caring, especially concerning Women and Women’s Issues. Her conversation on Migrant Crime was powerful and insightful. Great job Katie!”

Ms. Britt won her first public office in 2022, becoming the first female senator elected in Alabama and the youngest Republican woman elected to the chamber. Speaker Mike Johnson noted in announcing that she would give the State of the Union response that she was the “only current Republican mom of school-age kids serving in the Senate.”

Her selection made for a stark contrast with Mr. Biden, 81, the nation’s oldest president, who is facing skepticism within his party about whether he is too old for a second term.

She also symbolized the latest Republican attempt to broaden the appeal of a party represented overwhelmingly in Washington by white men.

Last year, the Republican response was given by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas, a former Trump White House press secretary, who became the nation’s youngest governor when she took office early last year. The previous Republican responses to Mr. Biden’s speech came from Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa’s first female governor, and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black Republican in the chamber.

Ms. Britt repeatedly brought up families and her children in her speech.

“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,” she said. “I worry my own children may not even get a shot at living their American dreams.”

Ms. Britt is, at first glance, an unlikely vice-presidential contender for Mr. Trump. She rose to the Senate within the business-friendly establishment wing of the Republican Party that he has driven from power.

She served as chief executive of the Business Council of Alabama, the state’s chamber of commerce, and as a former chief of staff to former Senator Richard Shelby, Alabama’s longest serving senator.

But Ms. Britt has been on Mr. Trump’s radar since August 2021, when she was at the end of a receiving line to shake the former president’s hand during a Republican gathering in Alabama.

Ms. Britt, then a candidate for Senate, introduced the former president to her husband, Wesley Britt, noting that he played professional football for the New England Patriots, whose billionaire owner, Robert Kraft, is close to Mr. Trump, according to two people familiar with the exchange.

Even though Mr. Trump had already endorsed her primary opponent, Representative Mo Brooks, Ms. Britt would tell Mr. Trump that she deserved his endorsement instead.

Seven months later, in March 2022, Mr. Trump withdrew his endorsement as Mr. Brooks dropped in the polls. He backed Ms. Britt, calling her “an incredible fighter for the people of Alabama,” less than two weeks before her runoff election with Mr. Brooks in June.

Democrats seized on Ms. Britt’s selection for the Republican response as they try to make abortion rights and women’s issues central campaign topics.

Last month, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos should be considered children, imperiling access in the state to fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization. Ms. Britt, who has said that she believes life begins at conception, came out in support of access to I.V.F. after the ruling.

Ms. Britt, along with most Senate Republicans, voted this year against a breakthrough bipartisan bill to crack down on immigration while providing new aid to Ukraine.

On foreign affairs, she argued that Mr. Biden’s “strategy of appeasement” had led to chaos and turmoil around the world.

Ms. Britt, along with a small majority of Republicans, voted against an aid package to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan that ultimately passed the Senate.

Earlier on Thursday, Ms. Britt’s team distributed talking points that promoted her speech by comparing it to some of the most famous oratory in the nation’s history and urging fellow Republicans to praise the Alabama senator for coming across “like America’s mom.”

“His speech was tone deaf,” the talking points declared, before either Mr. Biden or Ms. Britt had spoken. “Hers was the perfect pitch.”

Jonathan Swan contributed reporting.

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