Arkansas Governor Sanders will offer State of the Union rebuttal

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, once White House press secretary for President Donald Trump, is set to return to the national stage as she delivers the GOP answer to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address.

Sanders, 40, will deliver the speech Tuesday night less than a month after being sworn in first female governor of Arkansas. The daughter of former Gov. Mike Huckabee, she is also the first Arkansan to deliver a presidential State of the Union response since Bill Clinton as governor in 1985.

With her speech, GOP leaders are giving a platform to a figure closely tied to Trump who remains influential in the party, even as Republicans question how much of an obstacle his quest to return to the White House has become. The star turn for Sanders also puts the spotlight on the nation’s youngest governor at a time when the latest poll suggests that even many Democrats view the 80-year-old Biden’s age as a liability.

“I am excited for the nation to hear from Governor Sanders on Tuesday and witness a stark contrast to this jaded and failing administration,” Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement announcing Sanders’ election last week.

Biden is expected to use his speech before Congress to highlight his efforts to create jobs, fight inflation and improve the nation’s infrastructure. The president, who is expected to announce in the next few months that he will seek re-election, faces a tough political environment and a divided Congress. Poll published this week by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that only 37% of Democrats say they want him to seek a second term

Sanders, who served about two years as White House press secretary, focused heavily on her criticism of Biden under her successful bid for governor last year. She frequently railed against the Democratic president’s COVID-19 pandemic response, immigration policies and other positions.

But since the election, Sanders has the most avoided weighing on Trump, who endorsed her bid for governor and was featured in her campaign materials. Sanders has not said whether she plans to support Trump, who is making a third bid for the presidency, and she did not mention the former president during her election night victory speech.

Sanders has focused his attention on some of the former president’s favorite targets, signing several executive orders within hours of taking office that were cheered by conservatives. They included an order banning the teaching of critical race theory in public schools and another banning TikTok from government entities.

Sanders has said her priority is getting her state’s Republican legislature to pass education legislation that she said would include teacher raises and a form of school choice that would allow public money to be used to pay for private schools. She also calls for phasing out the state’s income tax.

The speech is a reintroduction for Sanders, who is already known from his time as press secretary and one of Trump’s closest aides. During her time as Trump’s chief spokesman, she scaled back daily television briefings after repeatedly sparring with reporters who aggressively questioned her.

She was regularly vilified by late-night hosts and “Saturday Night Live,” who portrayed her as a disingenuous Trump loyalist with an exaggerated Southern drawl. But Sanders also built an intensely loyal following among Republicans with frequent appearances on Fox News and other conservative-friendly outlets.

Sanders is speaking at a time when her predecessor, former Gov. Asa Hutchinson, is considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination. Hutchinson has been an outspoken critic of Trump and has said Trump as the GOP nominee would be “worst case scenario” for the party.


Follow AP’s coverage of the State of the Union address at: https://apnews.com/hub/state-of-the-union-address

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