Where Are They Now: Politicians Who Delivered Official Responses to State of the Union Addresses

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A look back at ten years of the “worst job in politics.”

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The President of the United States has a constitutional obligation to “from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union.” That doesn’t mean the President has to give a speech in person, but anyone who submits that information in writing doesn’t get to go on TV.

Lyndon Johnson forever changed the political calculus of State of the Union addresses in 1965 when he moved the speech to prime time. The next year, Republican Congressional leaders vowed not be outfoxed again, and Everett Dirksen and Gerald Ford’s prerecorded speech aired five days after Johnson’s. Thus was born a tradition even more tiresome than the State of the Union: the so-called “worst job in politics.”

Delivering a response speech may be a thankless, even pointless, exercise, but it’s not necessarily a career killer unless you’re named Bobby Jindal. As we sort-of await Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s speech Tuesday, here’s an update on every response for the last decade. Our list includes responses to “joint addresses,” which as anyone who willingly watches the State of the Union at a bar will tell you if you can’t get away from them, are not technically State of the Union addresses. (We’ve included only the official opposition responses to the speech, because life is short.)

2013: US Senator Marco Rubio

You may remember it for: Probably not for anything he said. Florida’s then junior senator took a big swig from a tiny bottle of water between two sentences, with his eyes, as the New Yorker wrote, exhibiting “dread, desperation, decision, and regret.”

Where is he now? Despite Time magazine declaring Rubio the “Republican Savior” that year, he’s still in the Senate.

2014: US Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers

You may remember it for: A dodgy anecdote about Obamacare.

Where is she now? Still in Congress.

2015: US Senator Joni Ernst

You may remember it for: Ernst trying to avoid “hot-button issues and controversial rhetoric,” as Vox put it, a strategy US politicians have adopted ever since.

Where is she now? Still in the Senate. Ernst’s guest for tonight’s speech is the president of a popcorn company, which you should absolutely read nothing into.

2016: South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley

You may remember it for: The last gasp of the old GOP establishment as Haley sort-of criticized Donald Trump, who was then a candidate for President. Sadly, Haley’s speech probably wasn’t the end of DC conventional wisdom.

Where is she now? Trump named Haley ambassador to the United Nations; she now plans to run against him.

2017: Former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear

You may remember it for: Why was he in a diner patronized by people seemingly forbidden to move?

Where is he now? Still a former governor.

2018: US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III

You may remember it for: Kennedy briefly becoming the highest profile ginger since Ron Weasley and speaking before a weirdly enthusiastic audience in a garage.

Where is he now? Kennedy turned that triumph into a milestone: He became the first member of his famous family to lose an election in Massachusetts. Now he’s President Biden’s special envoy for Northern Ireland.

2019: Former Georgia House of Representatives minority leader Stacey Abrams

You may remember it for: A coronation for Abrams as a Democratic rising star (who has yet to win a statewide election).

Where is she now? Abrams’ turnout machine may have delivered Georgia for Biden, but it didn’t help her second bid for  governor.

2020: Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

You may remember it for: Not being the moment when Nancy Pelosi ripped up a copy of Donald Trump’s speech.

Where is she now? Still Michigan’s governor.

2021: US Senator Tim Scott

You may remember it for: Scott criticized President Biden for promising to unite the nation but instead “pulling us further apart.”

Where is he now? Still in the Senate; recently pledged he won’t applaud Tuesday if Biden brings up the Chinese spy balloon.

2022: Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds

You may remember it for: Reynolds saying Biden wanted to take the US back to a time when the “Soviet army was trying to redraw the world map”—several days after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Where is she now? Still Iowa’s governor.

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