Column: What Katie Britt’s misleading, melodramatic speech revealed about the Republican Party

Sen. Katie Britt speaks at a news conference.
Sen. Katie Britt (R-Ala.), speaks at a news conference on border security at the U.S. Capitol in December.
(Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images)

The youngest Republican woman ever elected to the Senate, and the first from Alabama, chose a long-sleeved green blouse for the biggest speech of her political career. The centerpiece was the crucifix pendant hanging from her necklace, which would occasionally flicker when Sen. Katie Britt shifted her weight. This wasn’t by accident: What better way to communicate trustworthiness to evangelical voters than a cross?

Britt’s melodramatic delivery of the State of the Union rebuttal last week was widely panned on social media and parodied on “Saturday Night Live.” And then, of course, there was Karla Jacinto.

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LZ Granderson

LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and navigating life in America.

“When I first took office, I did something different,” Britt recounted. “I traveled to the Del Rio sector of Texas, where I spoke to a woman who shared her story with me. She had been sex-trafficked by the cartels starting at age 12.” The senator suggested that this had happened in the United States and added, “President Biden’s border crisis is a disgrace. It’s despicable. And it’s almost entirely preventable.”


But Britt was not being completely honest about the story of that 12-year-old girl. Jacinto, an activist who has been sharing her story since long before Britt took office, said she met the Alabama senator in a group with other officials, not individually. She said she was trafficked in Mexico, far from the U.S. border. And she said this happened from 2004 to 2008.

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In other words, the woman sitting in the kitchen with the cross glittering on her neck lied.

After the truth came out, Britt hopped on Fox News to do damage control, still looking like a live-action Hallmark card and apparently hoping that the appearance of compassion could cover the tracks of her political miscalculation.

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The question for the evangelical voters who make up much of the Republican base is how much more politics can outweigh morals in the name of whatever conservatism even means anymore. Politico reported Monday that an evangelical group is spending north of $60 million to get a twice-impeached, repeatedly indicted former president back in the White House, so perhaps that is our answer.

The whole “moral majority” movement in conservative politics always involved theatrics and cosplay. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene took it to a new level by deploying Hunter Biden’s sexting photos during a House committee hearing. And now the future of the Republican Party is sitting in a kitchen purporting to speak honestly with voters of faith while telling a lurid lie for political purposes.


“I work as a spokesperson for many victims who have no voice,” Jacinto told CNN. “I really would like … all the governors, all the senators, to be empathetic with the issue of human trafficking because there are millions of girls and boys who disappear all the time — people who are really trafficked and abused, as she [Britt] mentioned. And I think she [Britt] should first take into account what really happens before telling a story of that magnitude.”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was able to take repeated swigs from a bottle of water during another infamous State of the Union rebuttal because someone was on set to get it to him. Producers tell you what colors and patterns to wear. Camera operators remind you where to look. Nothing that happened during Britt’s rebuttal was happenstance.

Jacinto’s story was not hard to find. But it appears as if all those involved in the senator’s production didn’t believe anyone would bother looking.

The fallout is an embarrassment and a setback for Britt, but it is ultimately unlikely to do her any grave political harm. The leader of her party is facing imminent trial for paying hush money to an adult film actress and has been found liable for sexual abuse so, yeah, Britt will probably be fine.

The same can’t be said for her party’s claim to any sort of true moral high ground.