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WASHINGTON – The official GOP rebuttal to the president's State of the Union address was delivered by Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the House GOP's highest-ranking woman, who said that President Obama was making it tougher for a lot of Americans.
"Right now, the president's policies are making people's lives harder. Republicans have plans to close the gap," she said.
But that was hardly the end of it as a diverse group of Republicans joined in to respond to Obama's speech.
Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, two Tea Party favorites, also delivered high-profile responses with an ideological edge.
The flurry of reactions partly reflects the ongoing battle for power within Republican ranks, where competing blocs have quarreled over the party's platform and its playbook for divided government.
For McMorris Rodgers, the chair of the House Republican conference, the rebuttal slot was an opportunity to step into the national spotlight. She blended talk of her family — she has three young children, including a son with Down syndrome — with platitudes and policy pitches.
"I'd like to share a more hopeful Republican vision," McMorris Rodgers said.
On health care, McMorris Rodgers knocked the administration for the rocky rollout of the president's signature law.
"We've all talked to too many people who have received cancellation notices they didn't expect or who can no longer see the doctors they always have," she said.
Health law 'is not working'
"No, we shouldn't go back to the way things were," she said, "but the president's health care law is not working."
"Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government's," she said. "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."
Lee and Paul delivered harsher takes, a sign that conservatives want more forceful assertions of their principles.
Lee, a 42-year-old freshman, hit chiefly on economic issues and imparted his broadsides against the Obama administration with a tinge of exasperation, expressing disappointment with the president's positions on federal spending, regulatory policy and taxes.
A 'conservative agenda'
Calling on Republicans to articulate a "conservative reform agenda," he said the GOP can't win a mandate without better arguments.
A theme for both conservative responses was the desire for a more robust Republican anti-poverty program, looking to rebut Obama's focus on income inequality.
"Americans know in their hearts that something is wrong," Lee said. "We are facing an inequality crisis, one to which the president has paid lip service, but seems uninterested in truly confronting."
Paul argued for free enterprise. "The ticket to the middle class is not higher taxes on the very businesses that must create jobs," he said. "Economic growth will come when we lower taxes for everyone."