WASHINGTON (AP) – Americans should resist “the siren call of the angriest voices” in how they treat immigrants, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said as the GOP used its response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address to try softening the tough stance embraced by some of its leading presidential candidates.
Haley, herself the U.S.-born daughter of Indian immigrants, said Tuesday that the country is facing its most dangerous security threat since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. That was a reference to the Islamic State group, which holds territory in Iraq and Syria and has taken credit for attacks in Paris and elsewhere.
“During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices,” she said in excerpts of her party’s formal response, which was released early by Republicans. “We must resist that temptation.”
Haley, who has been mentioned by some as a potential GOP vice presidential candidate this year, said no one who works hard and follows the laws “should ever feel unwelcome in this country.”
In the excerpts, Haley did not mention the GOP presidential race. But the front-runner so far, Donald Trump, has called for deporting millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally. Two other contenders, Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have battled over which of them has the tougher record on the issue.
Polls have shown public concerns over terrorism and national security have become a top issue ever since the November attacks that killed 130 in Paris and the December mass shooting by a radicalized Muslim couple that killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California. Ever since, Republicans on the presidential campaign trail and in Congress have been emphasizing the issues.
“This president appears either unwilling or unable to deal with” the terrorist threat, Haley said in remarks brimming with broad descriptions of how Republicans would do things differently than Democrats if they win the White House and retain control of Congress. “Soon, the Obama presidency will end and America will have the chance to turn in a new direction.”
At the same time, many in the GOP feel the party must do a better job of appealing to Hispanics and other minority voters if they are to compete effectively in national and many statewide elections. Some in the party feel that Trump is so divisive that he could not only lose the presidential election if nominated but cost the GOP seats in Congress.
They’re also eager to win more votes from women, who preferred Obama over his Republican opponents by more than 10 percentage points in his 2008 and 2012 elections and have favored the Democratic presidential candidate in each election since 1992.
Haley, at 43 the nation’s youngest governor, is the third consecutive woman GOP leaders have chosen to deliver their party’s response to Obama. Freshman Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, gave the address last year and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., the No. 4 House GOP leader, did it in 2014.
Twenty-nine of the 300 GOP members of Congress, or about 10 percent, are women, about one-third the proportion of women among congressional Democrats. Each party also has three female governors, although GOP governors outnumber Democrats 31 to 18, plus an independent.
Haley said the nation’s problems also include an economy that’s not boosted family income, a national debt that’s too high and Obama’s health care law, which Republicans have long asserted has failed. She also cited “chaotic unrest in many of our cities,” which seemed a reference to community anger in several cities over killings by police of unarmed black people.
She said under a GOP president, Republicans would lower taxes, curb spending and debt and strengthen the military.
“We would make international agreements that were celebrated in Israel and protested in Iran, not the other way around,” she said, a reference to a treaty Obama and other nations negotiated with Iran to restrict its nuclear program that Republicans solidly oppose.
Haley has risen in national prominence for helping to end the display of the Confederate battle flag on Statehouse grounds after half a century. She also gained attention following last June’s slaying of 15 people at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and catastrophic flooding that battered her state in October.
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