U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who has a son with Down syndrome, is set to present the Republican response to the president’s State of the Union address next week.
McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., serves as chair of the House Republican Conference and is the highest-ranking female Republican in Congress.
In tapping her to respond to President Barack Obama on Tuesday night, Republican party leaders hyped McMorris Rodgers’ role as a mom and signaled their desire to appeal to women.
“Through the lens of her family’s experiences, Cathy will share our vision for a better America built on a thriving middle class, guided by a fierce belief in life and liberty, and grounded in greater trust between citizens and their government,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, said in a statement announcing the selection. “We are grateful to Cathy for lending her voice and perspective to this national occasion.”
McMorris Rodgers has been vocal on disability issues since her son Cole, 6, was born with Down syndrome. She co-founded the bipartisan Congressional Down Syndrome Caucus and has supported legislation to limit the use of restraint and seclusion in the nation’s schools as well as bills to increase funding for Down syndrome research and to allow people with disabilities a way to save money without losing government benefits.
In a video that accompanied the announcement this week, McMorris Rodgers emphasized the impact that having a child with special needs has had on her.
“When Cole was born he was diagnosed with Down syndrome. That’s not the news that any parents prepare to hear,” McMorris Rodgers said. “I’m so grateful for Cole and his influence on my life. I’m a better legislator, I’m a better person because of Cole’s impact on my life. He gives me a whole new passion and certainly a new purpose for serving in Congress and I want to make sure I’m doing everything that I can to ensure the next generation has as many opportunities and more.”
In addition to Cole, McMorris Rodgers is also mom to Grace, 3, and Brynn, 2 months. She is the first person to give birth three times while serving in Congress.