DES MOINES, Iowa – Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, delivering the Republican rebuttal to President Joe Biden's State of the Union address Tuesday, painted the picture of a country in the grip of several crises as she hammered the president's leadership, notably on the world stage.
Reynolds depicted Biden's year in office as having “sent us back” to fraught times more than 40 years ago as she made the case for the “alternative” approach of Republicans hoping to capture control of Congress in this year's midterm elections.
"Instead of moving America forward, it feels like President Biden and his party have sent us back in time to the late ’70s and early ’80s, when runaway inflation was hammering families, a violent crime wave was crashing on our cities, and the Soviet army was trying to redraw the world map,” Reynolds said.
Republicans have hinted for months at two prongs of the three-sided broadside. But Reynolds’ critique of Biden for the Russian invasion of Ukraine signaled the party's commitment to casting Biden and Democrats as weak world leaders, compounding their withering criticism of the administration's handling of the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last fall.
“Even before taking the oath of office, the President told us that he wanted to ‘make America respected around the world again and to unite us here at home.’ He's failed on both fronts,” Reynolds said, speaking from the rooftop terrace of Iowa Historical Building with the gold-domed Capitol in Des Moines in the background.
Reynolds, whose foreign affairs experience is limited to overseas economic development missions, said “weakness on the world stage has a cost. And the President’s approach to foreign policy has consistently been too little, too late.”
“And now Russia has launched an unprovoked full-scale military invasion of Ukraine, an attack on democracy, freedom, and the rule of law," she said.
The swipe goes right at what had been a perceived strength of Biden, who brought to the White House eight years as vice president and decades of service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Reynolds' defense of democracy, however, also comes as a select congressional committee has spent more than a year investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by activists loyal to former President Donald Trump who believed the Republicans falsehoods — roundly rejected by state officials and the courts — that the 2020 election was stolen.
While Democrats have portrayed the deadly Capitol siege as an attack on democracy, the Republican National Committee last month labeled the event “legitimate political discourse.”
Reynolds used her 14-minute address to portray the United States as on the “wrong track” — mired in inflation, crime and moral decay, not emerging from the two years of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, she blamed inflation and rising energy prices on spending by Biden and Democrats, who control Congress. “They plowed ahead anyway, raising the price at the pump by 50% and pushing inflation to a 40-year high,” she said.
She also took her moment to introduce herself as a Midwestern mother and grandmother — once a small-town grocery clerk — more in touch with everyday Americans than leaders in Washington, whom she painted as out of touch with heartland cultural concerns.
It's those leaders in Washington, she argued, who are part of “a political class trying to remake this country into a place where an elite few tell everyone else what they can and cannot say, what they can and cannot believe.”
Last year, Reynolds signed legislation banning from schools controversial books and teachings, including lessons about systemic racism and white privilege.
Parents are “tired of politicians who tell parents they should sit down, be silent, and let government control their kids’ education and future," she said.
“It seems like everything is backwards,” she said, describing Americans as “waiting for the insanity to stop.”
Reynolds, a former lieutenant governor, has been governor since 2017, when then-Gov. Terry Branstad was confirmed as the Trump administration's ambassador to China. She was elected to her own term in 2018 and is expected to seek a second this year.
Reynolds, 62, has been a devout Trump advocate in Iowa, campaigning with him before the 2020 election, when he carried Iowa for a second time. She also stood with Trump during a Des Moines rally in October, after he had left office, when he repeated the falsehoods that rampant voter fraud cost him a second term.
Though Reynolds has not echoed the falsehoods, she has stood by Trump.
“This is not the same country it was a year ago,” said Tuesday. “The president tried to paint a different picture tonight, but his actions over the last twelve months don’t match the rhetoric. It’s not what he promised when he took office.”
Reynolds had endeared herself to Iowa’s increasingly GOP-leaning electorate in no small part by opposing much of the Biden administration’s pandemic policy.
She resisted mask requirements and joined other states in lawsuits to fight the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates. She also was the first governor to require schools to resume in-person classes and fought with some districts that tried to continue online learning recommended by public health officials to slow virus spread.
“I was attacked by the left. I was attacked by the media. But it wasn’t a hard choice. It was the right choice,” she said.
Associated Press writer David Pitt contributed to this report.