House Republicans Backtrack About Spanish-Language Rebuttal To State Of The Union
Republicans' Spanish-language rebuttal to this year's State of the Union address will come largely from a politician who wants to make English the official language of the United States and sued to keep her state from printing voting materials in other languages.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), an immigration hard-liner, will deliver the traditional GOP rebuttal Tuesday night. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) will deliver the Spanish version of the Republicans' response, but it remains unclear whether the congressman will read a translated version of Ernst's remarks or give a more original speech.
House Republicans initially said in a Jan. 15 press release that Curbelo would read a translation of Ernst's speech. But by Tuesday, after Mother Jones reported on the irony of broadcasting Ernst's translated speech in Spanish given her positions, the press release had been edited. According to the Latin Post, which took a screenshot of the old version, the release no longer says that Curbelo's remarks will be a translation of Ernst's.
It remains unclear how similar the two rebuttals will be. Mother Jones reported Tuesday that "according to Curbelo's office, when it comes to policy and politics, [Curbelo] will be speaking Ernst's words—just in a language she doesn't want to be used by the government." Curbelo's office did not respond to The Huffington Post's request for clarification.
Wadi Gaitan, press secretary for the House Republican conference, wrote in an email to HuffPost that both Curbelo and Ernst "are delivering the same Republican message" and that "both will share their unique stories and experiences to shape the narrative."
Ernst, a conservative politician who erupted onto the national stage during her successful Senate run in 2014, said in October that she favors making English the official language of the United States.
“I think it’s great when we can all communicate together,” Ernst said during a campaign stop in western Iowa. “I think that’s a good idea, is to make sure everybody has a common language and is able to communicate with each other.”
Along with Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a prominent immigration hard-liner and English-only advocate, Ernst sued the Iowa secretary of state in 2006 seeking to end the practice of issuing ballot materials in languages other than English.
The lawsuit argued that issuing registration cards and other voting materials in other languages violated a 2002 law passed by the Iowa state legislature making English the state’s official language. At the time, Ernst was serving in Iowa’s Montgomery County as an auditor, an elected office whose duties include overseeing elections.
A district court upheld the English-only law in 2008.
Ernst’s office did not immediately reply to requests to explain her stance on making English the official national language or restricting the government's use of other languages.
Juan Cartagena, the president and general counsel of the the legal defense fund LatinoJustice, disputed that English-only laws are necessary, pointing out that more than 90 percent of Americans over five years old already speak English exclusively or “well” at home, according to the Census Bureau's 2011 American Community Survey.
“Nothing in these English-only laws will provide money or textbooks or teachers for anyone in the country who wants to learn English,” Cartagena wrote in an email to HuffPost. “This is all about a fear of the changing racial demographics. Our country is changing and an English-only law will only disenfranchise millions of people and make them feel they are not welcome.”
Though English-only advocates portray Spanish as a foreign language, Spanish is hardly alien to the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, some 37 million people in the country spoke Spanish as of 2013, making the U.S. the fifth-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world.
Last year, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a Cuban-American from South Florida, gave the GOP rebuttal to the State of the Union address in both English and Spanish for the first time.