Republican SOTU Responses Get Lost in Translation

Steve Benen, MSNBC, January 21, 2015

For the third consecutive year, the Republican Party’s official response to the State of the Union was actually split in two: one in English and one in Spanish.

In theory, this was supposed to be simple. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) would deliver a carefully crafted GOP response to President Obama’s speech, while Rep Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) would deliver the identical speech in Spanish. What could possibly go wrong?


The potential pitfall was the disagreement between Ernst and Curbelo about immigration reform. The right-wing Iowan is a fierce opponent of immigration reform–under the circumstances, it was ironic her speech was being delivered in two languages since she’s an English-only supporter–while the Florida Republican has actually criticized his party for blocking bipartisan solutions.

The disagreement created uncertainty: how would Republicans deal with one of the nation’s most pressing issues when their two official speakers are on opposite sides? As it turned out, they’d deal with it in the most cynical way possible. Politico was one of many outlets to notice:

Republicans sent mixed signals on immigration in their two official rebuttals to President Obama Tuesday night: Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst’s rebuttal made no mention of the topic, but the Spanish-language version of the rebuttal, delivered by Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo, said Republicans wanted to work with Obama to fix the immigration system.

“We should also work through the appropriate channels to create permanent solutions for our immigration system, to secure our borders, modernize legal immigration, and strengthen our economy,” said Curbelo in Spanish. “In the past, the president has expressed support for ideas like these. Now we ask him to cooperate with us to get it done.”

If Republican officials had said the two lawmakers intended to give different speeches, this might be less of an issue, but they actually said the opposite.

Indeed, House Republicans specifically told reporters, in writing, that Curbelo would deliver “the Spanish-Language translated address of Sen. Joni Ernst response.” He’d have to change personal details such as his own name, but otherwise, it was supposed to be the same speech.


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