Republican Reprisal: GOP Leaders Criticize President, Call for Support in Upcoming Elections
By Jackie Ourada , Morning Edition Host & Reporter Nebraska Public Media
Sept. 12, 2021, 8:24 p.m. ·
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Hundreds of people filled long tables lined together at the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park in Nebraska City Sunday.
It's the fifth year of Governor Pete Ricketts' annual Steak Fry. The event formerly attracted popular GOP leaders such as former US Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and Texas Governor Greg Abbott. This year, three popular Republican leaders, who could make a presidential run in 2024, were invited: Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence.
Protesters gathered outside the park, greeting steak fry attendees with signs featuring local leaders such as Republican representatives Don Bacon and Jeff Fortenberry and Governor Ricketts.
State Senator Julie Slama served as a host for the early afternoon event.
Guests included Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer, Nebraska Representative Don Bacon, former Nebraska governor Kay Orr, Lieutenant Governor Mike Foley, a dozen of Nebraska state senators and city representatives across the state.
State senator Slama plugged her voter ID petition for guests to sign before handing off the mic to Governor Ricketts.
He first championed Nebraska's lowest unemployment rate in the country, along with rising beef and corn exports so far this year, before transitioning to criticism on President Biden's handling of national issues. His first attack took aim at Biden's newest announcement to have businesses with more than 100 employees to require COVID-19 vaccinations or have employees undergo weekly testing.
"Even before the president made his announcement, I was on the phone with our Attorney General Doug Peterson, and he was consulting with his fellow attorneys general across the country. On Friday morning, I was meeting with my colleagues, fellow governors around the country, and we are putting together a strategy to push back on this egregious overreach by the federal government into our personal health care decisions," Ricketts said. The crowd cheered.
"We will fight back, and it's going to be your republican governors on the front line doing that."
Ricketts also touched on trending national issues such as critical race theory and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The pushback against Biden continued to the next guest speaker -- Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who's been outspoken about mask and vaccine mandates.
"My message from Florida is this: When Joe Biden violates the constitution; when Joe Biden attacks the jobs of Floridians and Americans; when Joe Biden targets the livelihoods of Florida families and American families, I am fighting back against him" DeSantis said.
DeSantis, much like the other speakers, compared Donald Trump's presidency to Joe Biden's. DeSantis said the U.S. is "worse off" after the U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, and it's deterred how countries, like Russia and China, view the United States, in his opinion.
"Those countries fear Donald Trump. They don't fear Joe Biden, and they don't respect Joe Biden," DeSantis said to the crowd.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who attempted a presidential run in 2016, then took the stage.
"What an incredible privilege to be with so many freedom-loving patriots. Pete, let me thank you for your friendship. Thank you for your strong, principled leadership," Cruz said as he took the stand.
The Texas senator started his 30-minute speech off with a similar tone as the other speakers, strongly opposing Biden's actions since taking office in January, but the Texas senator hinted at a shift he believes will come in 2022.
"We got to make it through the next two years. We got to make it through the next four years. We've got to make it through some challenges and crisis and weeping, but I am here to tell you, that morning is coming. Morning is coming for America," Cruz cheered to the audience.
Former Vice President Mike Pence brought a calmer demeaner to the stage while highlighting his work in the White House, touching on Operation Warp Speed, before shifting to sharp criticism of President Biden. Pence then took a nod to upcoming elections.
"Nebraska, it's time to say 'enough is enough.' It's time to decide right here and right now that we're going to win back Congress in 2022 and we're going to win back America in 2024," Pence said.
Ricketts rounded out the afternoon encouraging the audience to get engaged, from attending public hearings in the state legislature to speaking with neighbors on issues.
"One of the things we cannot do anymore -- and we've always heard this phrase, 'Well you can't talk about politics or religion while in polite company.' Folks, we have to, because I will tell you it is my firm belief that across this nation, more people believe the way we do than the way they do. They're just looking for their neighbors to stand up and say it's OK," Ricketts finished.
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