Late Tuesday evening, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds gave the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address.
During the address, Biden portrayed America as strong and prosperous, and tried to stay further to the center than he has over the past year.
“The State of the Union is strong because you, the American people, are strong,” Biden said near the end of the address.
During her response, Reynolds emphasized domestic issues like skyrocketing inflation, the rapid rise in gas prices, crime, and unprecedented illegal immigration, though she did briefly comment on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Democrats have spent the past year ignoring the issues—or making them worse,” Reynolds said near the beginning of her rebuttal.
“This is not the same country it was a year ago,” Reynolds said. “The president tried to paint a different picture tonight, but his actions over the past 12 months don’t match the rhetoric.”
“But it doesn’t have to be that way,” she continued. “Across the nation, [Republicans] are showing Americans what conservative leadership looks like.”
GOP Saw That COVID Mandates ‘Weren’t the Answer’
As was widely expected by observers, Reynolds focused much of her response on COVID-19.
“Republican governors faced the same COVID-19 virus head-on,” Reynolds said. “But we honored your freedoms and saw right away that lockdowns and school closures—they came with their own significant costs.”
Republicans, she continued, “saw that mandates weren’t the answer.”
The effects of COVID mandates on America’s children, including school closures, in-class mask mandates, and other policies that stunt learning or social development have been “unconscionable,” Reynolds said.
While Biden and several Democrat governors across the nation instituted lockdowns, mask mandates, and vaccine mandates, Reynolds has largely kept her state open and has left the decision to wear a mask or get the vaccine up to Iowans.
Recently, Democrats have begun to relax COVID restrictions in accordance with updated recommendations from the CDC. But many vaccine and mask mandates remain in effect both at federal and state levels.
The most controversial vaccine mandate, Biden’s private sector mandate which would have forced employees at firms with 100 or more people to get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing, was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in January.
However, the Supreme Court refused to strike down a federal vaccine mandate for health care employees. Other federal mandates, including mandates for military service members, federal employees, and federal contractors, remain in effect and have faced little significant challenges from federal courts.
Biden Withdrawal From Afghanistan ‘Emboldened Our Enemies,’ Including Putin
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to escalate, the beginning of Biden’s address centered on the situation.
His Republican rivals, however, have argued that Biden himself is responsible—at least in part—for the situation due to his heavily-criticized withdrawal from Afghanistan, which led to the collapse of the U.S.-backed Afghani democratic government.
The criticism is nothing new.
Even while the fall of Afghanistan was ongoing, observers from both sides of the political aisle fretted that the withdrawal would send a message of weakness to United States’ adversaries like Russia and China. The notion that the United States would not back its allies, critics said at the time, might embolden China to attempt an invasion of Taiwan, or Russia to move further into Ukraine.
During her rebuttal to Biden’s address, Reynolds repeated the criticism. Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, Reynolds said, “did more than cost American lives—it emboldened our enemies.”
“It’s time for America to once again project confidence,” Reynolds said. “It’s time for us to live.”
On Feb. 24, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made a similar criticism during a press conference.
“I think the precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan in August was a signal to Putin and maybe to Chinese President Xi [Jinping], that America was in retreat, that America could not be depended upon,” McConnell said. “[The withdrawal] was an invitation to autocrats in the world that maybe this was a good time to make a move.”
In a press conference before the State of the Union address, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) applauded Biden’s approach to the Ukraine crisis, particularly the imposition of sanctions barring major Russian banks from the SWIFT payment system.
“I believe President Biden’s done a great job [in responding to the invasion of Ukraine],” Schumer said. “I believe the country wants to follow his lead.”
Government Spending Responsible For Increased Inflation
Since Biden took office, inflation has increased at a rate not seen in decades.
Republicans have blamed the White House and Democrats in Congress for ongoing inflation due to their “out-of-control spending spree.”
Since January 2021, the Democrat-held Congress has passed—and Biden has signed—around $3.1 trillion in new spending. The result of this spending, GOP critics say, has been “Bidenflation.”
During the State of the Union, Biden admitted that inflation was hitting American households hard, but he suggested that spending bills, like his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, and other government interventions would be able to reduce the strain on the economy.
Biden said that he and Vice President Kamala Harris came to the White House with an economic vision that would challenge the “trickle-down economics” of President Ronald Reagan, which Biden said was too weighted in favor of the wealthiest one percent.
Reynolds said that Americans “outside the D.C. bubble” don’t want the federal government to spend trillions more.
“Even members of the president’s party thought that [the $1.85 trillion Build Back Better bill] was too much. Well, Americans share that view,” she said.
Reynolds said that Republicans recognize that America’s domestic problems require “bold solutions,” but emphasized that they do not think that those solutions necessarily need to be carried out by the government.
On Crime and Immigration, Democrats ‘Have Refused to Protect You’
Cities across the United States have faced record-breaking levels of violent crime since Biden took office.
Several cities have broken their all-time record for murders. Elsewhere, videos have circulated of massive sprees of looting, particularly in states along the west coast that have passed laws significantly reducing penalties for theft.
Democrats have largely stayed away from the topic, which Republicans have blamed on their “soft on crime” policies, as well as on slogans like “defund the police.”
During her response to Biden’s address, Reynolds also criticized prosecutors across the nation who have refused to enforce certain laws, or have limited penalties for breaking the laws.
“Liberal prosecutors are letting criminals off easy, and many Democrats still want to defund the police,” Reynolds said.
At the end of January, White House press secretary Jen Psaki faced backlash after saying that conservative media outlets covering increased crime rather than Ukraine were living in an “alternate universe.”
Reynolds also touched on immigration policy. Though Biden presented an image of wanting to secure the border during his Tuesday address, the past year has seen unprecedented levels of illegal immigration into the United States.
“The Biden administration has refused to secure our border, they’ve refused to provide the resources to combat human trafficking, to stop the deadly influx of drugs coming into our neighborhoods.”
On both criminal policy and immigration policy, Reynolds said, Democrats “have refused to protect you.”
Republicans Want to ‘Restore America’s Energy Independence’
Over the past year, the cost of energy—particularly gasoline—has raised dramatically, far outstripping the rate of overall inflation.
According to the most recent Consumer Price Index data released by the U.S. Department of Labor, prices have increased by 7.5 percent on average over the past 12 months. The price of gasoline, by contrast, has increased by 40 percent.
Republicans have squarely placed the blame for this rapid cost increase on Biden’s “anti-American energy policies.”
Upon taking office Biden, citing the so-called “climate crisis,” signed a series of executive orders ending or reversing Trump-era policies that led the nation to become energy independent for the first time in decades.
“[Republicans] are fighting to restore America’s energy independence,” Reynolds said.
Most prominently, Biden placed a moratorium on leasing federal lands to oil and natural gas producers. He also paused construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which has been a controversial issue since President Barack Obama’s time in the Oval Office.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), who has broken from his party often during the 117th Congress, has also indicated that he is frustrated with Biden’s energy policies.
In a Monday statement, Manchin called the policies “hypocritical,” as they increase U.S. dependence on Russian oil even as the U.S. condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and called on Biden to increase domestic energy production.