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Sarah Huckabee Sanders draws sharp contrast with Democrats in GOP rebuttal

<i>Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP</i><br/>Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders
Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders

By Clare Foran, CNN

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave a combative speech Tuesday evening in response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, drawing a sharp contrast with Biden as she delivered a series of blistering criticisms of the president.

Sanders called Biden “unfit to serve as commander in chief,” said his “weakness puts our nation and the world at risk” and described the political landscape in dire terms. “The dividing line in America is no longer between right or left. The choice is between normal or crazy,” she said.

Sanders sought to highlight a generational difference with Biden, saying, “At 40, I’m the youngest governor in the country, and at 80, he’s the oldest president in American history.” She also asserted in her speech that “it is time for a new generation of Republican leadership.”

The speech gave Sanders a major national platform to speak to the country and counter Biden after the president highlighted his priorities and agenda to the nation in his speech.

Sanders gained national prominence as White House press secretary under former President Donald Trump, serving as a staunch defender of the then-President and his policies, and frequently clashing with national reporters.

She made history last year as the first woman elected as governor of Arkansas. Her father, Republican Mike Huckabee, served as governor of the state from 1996 to 2007.

This year’s State of the Union took place with Republicans newly in control of the House, a position of power the GOP is using to launch congressional oversight investigations aimed at the Biden administration.

“In Washington, under the leadership of Senate Republicans and Speaker Kevin McCarthy, we will hold the Biden administration accountable,” Sanders said in a nod to the new political order in the nation’s capital.

Sanders also used the speech to highlight her service in the Trump administration and ties to the former president.

“During my two and a half years at the White House, I traveled on every foreign trip with the president,” she said, saying that she “will never forget” a trip that took place on December 25, 2018.

“We landed in the war-torn part of western Iraq,” Sanders said, and described a scene where hundreds of troops “who were in the fight against ISIS” had gathered in a dining hall to celebrate Christmas.

“They had absolutely no idea that the president and first lady were about to walk into that room,” she said, saying that when that happened, “the room erupted. Men and women from every race, religion, and region, every political party, every demographic you can imagine started chanting in perfect unison over and over and over again, “USA, USA, USA.”

“It was an absolutely perfect picture of what makes our country great,” she said, reflecting on the moment.

After being sworn in as governor, Sanders signed a flurry of executive orders, with one targeting critical race theory “to prohibit indoctrination” in schools and another barring the use of the term “Latinx” in official state documents.

“We will educate, not indoctrinate, our kids, and put students on a path to success,” she said as she discussed education policy.

Republican congressional leaders McCarthy and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell announced earlier this month that Sanders would give the response for their party to the State of the Union.

McConnell said in a statement, “Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the youngest Governor in the nation and a powerful advocate for the popular, commonsense conservative principles that will put our country back on a better course.”

McCarthy called Sanders “a servant-leader of true determination and conviction,” in a statement and said that she will share a “bold vision for a better America on Tuesday. Everyone, including President Biden, should listen carefully.”

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s David Chalian, Shawna Mizelle, Maureen Chowdhury and Nicole Chavez contributed to this report.

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