Curbelo Gives Spanish-Language Response to State of the Union

Curbelo Gives Spanish-Language Response to State of the Union
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Republican leadership tapped freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida to give the Spanish-language response to the State of the Union while freshman Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa was delivering the official response. Yet the two speeches, while similar in structure, had one large difference: immigration.

Curbelo mentioned it in his speech. Ernst did not.

“We should also work through the appropriate channels to create permanent solutions for our immigration system,” Curbelo said, according to a translation of the video posted by American Bridge. “In the past, the president has expressed support for ideas like these, now we ask him to collaborate with us to get it done.”

Curbelo said that after he was selected to give the speech, he received a copy of Ernst’s words and worked with it to make it his own. He said the two speeches followed a very similar outline, but with space for the preferences of the individual lawmakers.

“Both her speech and my speech I think reflect a blend of the party’s priorities and ideas and then some of our own priorities and ideas too,” Curbelo told RealClearPolitics. “It’s important to me and it’s important to a lot of the members of the House Republican conference, so that’s why I mentioned it.”

Curbelo said he submitted a draft of his speech to the Republican conference and got the OK with “no pushback” on the immigration section. He added that no one in the leadership recommended that he talk about immigration either.

“The party did not give me a speech and say ‘read it.’ The party gave me an opportunity to develop my own speech,” Curbelo said. “Had they given me something and told me to read it, I probably wouldn’t have done it unless it happened to reflect all of my priorities. So I appreciate the opportunity they gave me to speak for the party but also to speak for myself.”

Curbelo said he couldn’t believe it when Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the chair of the House Republican Conference, told him he had been selected to give the Spanish-language response.

“Every so often you kind of pause to think about what an awesome opportunity and responsibility this all is,” he said. “So it certainly hit me today that we’re doing some very important work here and that we can’t let the American people down.”

The speech wasn’t too difficult, he said, given that he’d spent a lot of time working on it and had it nailed down. He relaxed and took it easy early in the day and said he was totally prepared. But it was difficult to talk for 10 minutes straight, and he said he understands now where Sen. Marco Rubio struggled. Rubio famously made an awkward grab for a bottle of water during his response to the State of the Union in 2013.

All things told, it was a surreal day for Curbelo: along with giving his speech, this was his first State of the Union as a member of Congress. He called it “breathtaking” to be in the chamber to hear the president give the annual address, but said he tried not get too caught up in the bright lights and glamour of it all.

“I tried to be very sober about it because if you allow yourself to get caught up in it all too much, you lose focus and this is a job,” he said.

It was a long day, too. Curbelo brought his wife as his guest to the speech, and just after 11:30 p.m, with Statuary Hall in the Capitol finally emptying out of legislators and journalists, Curbelo said he was hoping to grab a bite to eat with his wife and celebrate “a historic day.” 

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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