Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas delivered a scorching admonition of President Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, casting him as the head of a failed administration hijacked by a “radical left” agenda that has delivered high gasoline prices and empty grocery shelves while teaching children to “hate one another on account of their race.”
“The Biden administration seems more interested in woke fantasies than the hard reality Americans face every day,” Ms. Sanders said. “Most Americans simply want to live their lives in freedom and peace, but we are under attack in a left-wing culture war we didn’t start and never wanted to fight.”
Ms. Sanders, who rose to national prominence as press secretary in the Trump White House, was elected to her first public office in November and sworn in just 28 days ago.
She was picked to deliver the Republican response by the House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, and the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, both of whom described her as an avatar for the future of the Republican Party.
Ms. Sanders was the first Arkansan to deliver a response to the State of the Union since 1985, when Bill Clinton, then a 38-year-old governor, responded to President Reagan’s address. Her speech was also the first English-language State of the Union response from a first-time elected official since 2007, when Senator Jim Webb of Virginia gave the address three weeks after being sworn in.
Ms. Sanders, who campaigned last year on the promise of ushering in “a new generation of leadership,” leaned into the contrast between her age and that of Mr. Biden. At 40, Ms. Sanders is the nation’s youngest governor, while Mr. Biden, 80, is the oldest president in U.S. history.
Speaking from the governor’s mansion in Little Rock, Ark., she encouraged a younger crop of politicians to fight for conservative ideals, calling for “a new generation of Republican leaders.”
“It’s time for a new generation to lead,” Ms. Sanders said. “This is our moment.”
While Ms. Sanders’s speech was crafted as a rebuke to Mr. Biden, the focus on age and generation also evoked her former boss, Donald J. Trump. In 2017 he became the second oldest president sworn into office, and now, at 76, he is seeking the Republican Party’s presidential nomination for the third consecutive time.
Ms. Sanders, who has been mentioned by some Trump allies as a potential running mate for the former president, has not endorsed his latest bid. Alexa Henning, a spokeswoman for Ms. Sanders, said Tuesday that the governor was “focused on Arkansas and being governor.”
Ms. Sanders spent much of her speech describing personal stories about her time in the Trump White House, battles with cancer for herself and her mother and the work she had done during her first weeks as governor.
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She highlighted executive orders she signed on her first day in office that banned the term “Latinx” from official use in the Arkansas government and required the state to review education policies that, in the order’s words, “indoctrinate students with ideologies” like critical race theory. Both issues will likely be invoked across the country as the party spends the next two years defending its new House majority while seeking to seize control of the Senate and the White House.
She also teased an education proposal she said she would unveil on Wednesday that she described as “the most far-reaching, bold, conservative education reform in the country.” Such a plan would put her in the company of several Republican governors who have seized on education issues as they consider whether to run for president.
Ms. Sanders, the daughter of former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, has become one of the relatively few high-profile Trump administration officials who bolstered their careers through the experience. That milestone has become particularly noteworthy considering she worked in a particularly fraught corner of the White House, where survival — more often than success — was the daily goal while working for a president eager to react to cable news headlines and social media posts.
Still, Ms. Sanders also became a polarizing figure in her own right.
She suspended the White House press pass of a CNN reporter, Jim Acosta, who had angered the president, though a judge later ordered the pass reinstated. In a separate episode, Robert S. Mueller III wrote in his special counsel report that Ms. Sanders had acknowledged as untrue her earlier claim that the White House had heard complaints from “countless” agents about James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director fired by Mr. Trump.
But while Ms. Sanders has focused on a “new generation” of leaders, she has already spent a lifetime in Republican politics.
She was 9 when she worked on the first of her father’s six political campaigns. She served as campaign manager, at the age of 27, for John Boozman’s first Senate race in 2010 and was a senior adviser for Tom Cotton’s first Senate contest in 2014.
In her speech on Tuesday, Ms. Sanders made an appeal to leaders “born in the waning decades of the last century, shaped by economic booms and stock market busts, forged by the triumph of the Cold War and the tragedy of 9/11.” She called on them to offer “new ideas to solve age-old problems” that would “challenge the present order and find a better way forward.”
“This is our opportunity,” she said. “If we seize this moment together, America can once again be the land of the free and the home of the brave.”