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Friday, December 9, 2016

WASHINGTON — Republicans took multiple tries to deliver their reaction to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night.

In addition to the officially sanctioned Republican Party response by Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and a Spanish-language version by Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Tea Party Express faction continued its practice of delivering a separate speech, this year by Utah Senator Mike Lee.

And Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who had delivered the Tea Party Express response last year, staked out his own turf this year with a YouTube address. Nor was that the only response from his family. His father, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, held an interactive town hall with supporters during and after the address.

For a party fighting the perception it’s at war with itself, the competing speeches were an unwelcome and very public reminder of the divisions that remain. Although including some common themes focused on the economy and smaller government, the rival addresses highlighted the intraparty battles that could undermine the GOP’s chances of winning key Senate contests in upcoming elections.

“I wish we’d speak with one voice. I really do,” said Senator John McCain (R-AZ). “The American people need to have one message from the Republican Party.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, the first woman to deliver a Republican response to the annual presidential address, said party unity is not what it was when she rebutted Bill Clinton’s 1995 speech. “It’s pretty indicative of where the party is these days,” she said. “It’s spread all over the place, and that’s a challenge. It’s a real problem.”

In what was billed as the “Republican Address to the Nation,” McMorris Rodgers said she wanted to share “a more hopeful, Republican vision — one that empowers you, not the government.”

Like the other Republican responses, she acknowledged the growing opportunity gap among Americans, but blamed Obama. “Too many people are falling further and further behind because, right now, the president’s policies are making people’s lives harder,” she said. “Republicans have plans to close the gap.”

She also addressed the troubled rollout of Obamacare, and signaled the party would offer its own alternate plan. “No, we shouldn’t go back to the way things were, but the president’s healthcare law is not working.”

In more brash terms, Lee outlined what he called a “new conservative reform agenda,” citing policy ideas from a rising generation of leaders, including Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. He said the economic inequality Obama spoke of was the result of a government that “takes rights and opportunities away from the American people and gives them instead to politicians, bureaucrats and special interests.”

But rather than seek to build GOP support, Lee chastised his own party, targeting his words to “those Americans who may feel they have been forgotten by both political parties. . . . To be fair, President Obama and his party did not create all of these problems. The Republican establishment in Washington can be just as out of touch as the Democratic establishment.”