U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in 2013. ABC News

The Jolt: Stacey Abrams and the ‘curse of the SOTU response’

The next six days will be a test of nerves for Stacey Abrams. And a test of her sense of humor.

On Tuesday, we learned that the former Democratic candidate governor will deliver her party’s Feb. 5 response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.

Trump will receive the applause and pageantry that comes with speaking in front of the cream of Washington’s power class. A sergeant of arms will lead him into the U.S. House chamber, shouting “Oyez, Oyez!” – and the president will bask in the attention.

If past is prologue, Abrams will be standing in a silent room, staring into a camera lens. She’ll be listening to what Trump says, and deciding whether a quick adjustment to a script already loaded into the TelePrompter is worthwhile.

Abrams will be thinking of those who have gone before her, and how more than a few have screwed up a first opportunity to address a national audience of millions. There will be no applause, and heaping spoonfuls of second-guessing.

“The curse of the SOTU response” is real.

This was the Twitter thought generated by fivethirtyeight.com’s Nate Silver upon learning of Abrams’ appointment:

If anybody can actually deliver a good State of the Union response, which most scientists believe is not physically possible under conventional interpretations of physics, they should not only run for president but should probably just become president automatically.

Both parties have struggled with the proper formula for rebutting a president’s agenda for the year. Trump’s speech next Tuesday is likely to be a volatile one, coming only days after the end of a historically long federal shutdown – and in the midst of a three-week time-out to find a compromise on his border wall.

The SOTU response has been a thing since the mid-60s. We have seen pairs deliver it, we have seen it turned into a press conference. More recently, the response has become a vehicle for showcasing a party’s up-and-comers.

This may be the heart of the curse – the damage that can be done to a fledgling career.

In 2009, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, a first-termer with the presidency on his mind, was tapped for the job of rebutting President Barack Obama’s first SOTU. Jindal’s performance was widely panned, and he never recovered.

Some responders survive poor reviews, including Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton (Class of ’85). A sudden case of dry mouth was embarrassing for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (Class of ’13), but far from fatal:

A string of woman responders should give Abrams hope. U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Class of ’14) and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (Class of ’15) did well. As did South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (Class of ’16).

The difference may be that Abrams will be giving the Democratic response as she’s being pushed to consider a 2020 challenge to U.S. Sen. David Perdue – who after ignoring Abrams, suddenly isn’t. His reaction to Abrams’ appointment as a national voice for Democrats:

“One thing I’ll guarantee is that you’ll see a stark contrast between what President Trump is going to describe as the future direction of our country and what the radical left is talking about right now.”

The best advice to Abrams may have come from U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, who was widely mocked for his lip-smacking State of the Union response last year:

-Be yourself, you’ll crush it

-He’ll talk longer than you expect so keep snacks handy

-Be the fighter we know you are

-Misplace your chapstick

-You have millions of Americans standing with you

***

WSB Radio’s Jamie Dupree tells us that an FAA notice came out Tuesday, showing VIP traffic down to Palm Beach International Airport on Friday. That means President Trump is finally getting to his Florida retreat at Mar-a-Lago. He cancelled a planned 16-day break there over the Christmas because of the partial government shutdown.

***

As posted earlier this morning, Gov. Brian Kemp said in an interview aired on Georgia Public Broadcasting last night that he would likely oppose a proposal that would impose a tax on internet services like Netflix, e-books and music downloads to raise money to expand rural broadband access.

***

U.S. Rep. Scot Turner, R-Holly Springs, has dropped a bill aimed at overly touchy homeowner associations. The active paragraph in House Bill 71:

During the 30 days preceding any primary election, general election, special election, or other election or referendum, any provision in a declaration that prohibits the placement of three or fewer signs that do not each exceed six square feet in surface area on any lot shall be void and unenforceable.

***

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath is under fire for her constituent service work - or lack thereof. 

InsiderAdvantage has posted a form letter the Marietta Democrat’s office sent a constituent last week, directing him to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s office for urgent inquiries while the Sixth District office contended with a “high volume of correspondence.”

“We thank you for your patience as we develop our mail system to send substantive responses,” stated the Jan. 23 letter, sent nearly three months after she won her seat.

Republican political groups quickly pounced on the report as a sign of freshman incompetence, since the Democrat had nearly two months between her election win and a Jan. 3 swearing-in date to staff up.

McBath spokesman Jake Orvis said the office is currently accepting constituent casework. 

“Anyone who contacted our office during the first 25 days of the transition period received a letter that said if their matter was urgent they should contact Senator Isakson’s office, as they are his constituents as well,” Orvis said. “Our casework operation is now up and running.” 

***

U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe, won’t head of the House Freedom Caucus – at least not in 2019. The group of roughly 30 House conservatives instead opted to extend the tenure of current chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., through December. Hice had been quietly vying for the role over the last few months. 

Earlier this month, the third-term Republican was booted from the influential House Armed Services Committee, a sign he has made enemies among GOP leaders.

***

One former Freedom Caucus member, U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, was focused this week on a location much closer to home. We’re told the Republican purchased breakfast and lunch for Transportation Security Administration agents at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Monday, the first weekday after the government reopened. On the menu: Chick-fil-A biscuits and Domino’s pizza. The agents had been forced to work without pay during the 35-day shutdown.

***

It’s not every day you see Cabinet secretaries retweet doctored pictures of themselves from the satirical newspaper The Onion. That’s what Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue did yesterday with a photo of the former Georgia governor smelling pieces of raw meat. (The crack was that he was doing “quick smell tests to inspect all the backlogged meat that piled up” during the shutdown.) 

"Flattering picture they chose AND spelled my name right," Perdue quipped on Twitter. "Hate to comment on satire, but feel the need to point out that meat, poultry & egg product inspections never stopped during the shutdown, lest you think there's a kernel of truth to this."

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