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Can Katie Britt — Or Anyone — Recover From a Bad State of the Union Rebuttal?

Backlash “comes with the territory of these things,” said Sen. Marco Rubio.

Katie Britt
Heavily criticized rebuttals have previously been seen as the reason why some politicians’ careers have stalled out. Andrew Harnik/AP

Partisan rebuttals to the State of the Union address are rarely remembered when they go well. But when they go badly, as was the case for Alabama Sen. Katie Britt, they suddenly become the cold open on “Saturday Night Live” and fodder for endless online memes.

So how easy is it to recover from the “worst job in politics”?

“She’ll be fine, she’s great,” Sen. Marco Rubio told NOTUS Monday of Britt’s official Republican response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech.

Backlash “comes with the territory of these things,” said Rubio, who knows a thing or two about the backlash that comes with the territory of these things. His 2013 delivery is best remembered for an awkward water break he took mid-speech. “Partisans are going to go out and start attacking. That’s what happens, unfortunately,” he said.

Britt was panned for her awkward delivery, her setting (in a kitchen) and for using a story about a victim of human trafficking to attack Biden that actually took place during the George W. Bush administration.

Heavily criticized rebuttals have previously been seen as the reason why some politicians’ careers have stalled out, while those that went without a hitch are not remembered.

“No response is ever transformative, but if one of the goals is to not destroy the career of a politician, then being forgotten is OK,” said Terry Szuplat, a former speechwriter for President Barack Obama.

Former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s 2009 response to Obama’s State of the Union address, for example, was considered such a “flop” that he never quite recovered (he tried running in 2016 but ultimately dropped out).

Britt’s colleagues don’t think that will be the case for her.

“She did a brilliant job,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, who gave the State of the Union response in 2015.

“It’s a tough gig, but I thought she did a great job,” said Texas Sen. John Cornyn. “I think her career is on the ascendency, and I don’t think this slowed it. It maybe helped it.”

“I can’t ever be in a situation where I’d say anything negative,” said Democratic Sen. John Fetterman, a close friend of Britt’s. He called her “a good person” and added that he didn’t think the backlash would significantly impact her career.

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The Daily Beast reported that Republican operatives close to Donald Trump called the speech “one of our biggest disasters ever.” However, Britt has reportedly been on Trump’s shortlist as a possible VP pick, and he publicly praised her response as compassionate, “especially concerning Women and Women’s Issues.”

Some political speechwriters said that while Britt’s speech might have affected her image in the short term, they doubted the long-term significance of SOTU rebuttals.

“They always do more harm than good. I mean, even the ones that we think of as going OK don’t really tend to make much of an impact,” said Dan Cluchey, a former Biden senior speechwriter who worked on the president’s 2022 State of the Union address.

Oriana González is a reporter at NOTUS.