GOP leaders pick Iowa governor for State of Union response

Kevin Freking
Associated Press

Washington – Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds will deliver the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1, GOP congressional leaders announced Tuesday as they look outside Washington to appeal to voters in a midterm election year.

Reynolds is the first woman to be elected governor in Iowa. She also was the first governor in the country to require schools to open for full-time in-person learning.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds arrives to speak at the Iowa Capitol Press Association's legislative seminar, Jan. 4, 2022, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa.

The GOP is anxious to portray GOP-led states as doing a better job of navigating the pandemic than the federal government, where Democrats control the levers of power. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell praised Reynolds for fighting COVID-19 “without forgetting common sense.”

“The President and his team should take notes,” McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement.

Reynolds pushed back against mask and vaccine mandates amid the coronavirus pandemic. She was chided by the Trump administration’s White House Coronavirus Task Force for ending mask mandates while Iowa was seeing a rapid increase in cases and deaths. Defying science, Reynolds sometimes spoke skeptically about the effectiveness of masks in halting the spread of the virus.

Republican lawmakers have chafed at requirements designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as government mandates that certain workers get a vaccine, saying the edicts violated individual American’s civil liberties.

Many Americans have grown weary of pandemic restrictions and states around the country are easing restrictions as cases begin to drop and as a large majority of people become vaccinated. That is also true at the U.S. Capitol, where some GOP lawmakers have incurred fines for refusing to wear a mask while in the House chamber.

But the scene at the Capitol will be one that starkly reminds Americans that the pandemic has not gone away. Increased protections are being taken to protect the health of the president and those in attendance.

Those attending the State of the Union address must undergo a COVID-19 test, avoid physical contact with others and wear a KN95 or N95 mask that completely covers the nose and mouth.

Those precautious are being taken even as the District of Columbia’s indoor mask requirement for most indoor gatherings and businesses is to be lifted on the same day as Biden’s address.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said “disastrous decision-making in Washington” has been offset by real leadership in states across the country, citing Iowa as an example.

“She handled COVID by choosing freedom over lockdowns and personal responsibility over mandates – leading to real economic recovery from the pandemic,” McCarthy, R-Calif., said of Reynolds.

Reynolds was elected in the narrowest victory in modern Iowa politics in 2018 beating Democrat Fred Hubbell by three percentage points, 50.4% to 47.4%.

She has governed as a conservative supporting a ban on same-sex marriage. She was a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, appearing at Iowa rallies, and said on a recent Iowa Public Television program that she expected he would endorse her when she formally announces plans for reelection.

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Associated Press writer David Pitt in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed.