COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will give the Republican response to a State of the Union address that is sure to include President Barack Obama's plans for tightening gun sales, seven months after both spoke at funerals for the victims of a massacre at a historic black church in Charleston.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell jointly announced Tuesday that Haley will speak for Republicans following Obama's Jan. 12 speech.
The South Carolina-born daughter of Indian immigrants is the state's first female and first minority governor. At 43, Haley is also the country's youngest governor.
"In a year when the country is crying out for a positive vision and alternative to the status quo, Gov. Haley is the exact right choice," Ryan said in a statement.
The selection will likely fuel speculation that Haley would join a potential Republican administration in 2017.
Haley, governor of a state that holds the first-in-the-South presidential primary, becomes the third Republican woman ever to give the response. It's a role typically reserved for a member of Congress. Last year, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa gave the response. In 2013, it was Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who's now among a crowded Republican field running for president.
It's also an opportunity that can backfire: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who abandoned his 2016 presidential bid, was widely panned for what critics said was a less-than-spectacular speech in 2009.
The speech will further the profile of a governor put in the national spotlight following the June 17 mass shooting at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church, in which the nine killed included its pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney. The white man charged with killing them could be seen in photos brandishing the Confederate battle flag.
Since taking office in 2011, Haley has staunchly criticized Obama on everything from health care reform to immigration. But the two seemed to share a vision, if only partially, after the shooting.
Haley, who attended funerals for all of the church shooting victims, has said the event motived by "pure hate" will "forever change the way I live my life."
"These people are forever ingrained in my soul — what they went through," she told The Associated Press amid tears in July.
Days after the shooting, she called for legislators to bring down the rebel flag that had flown on the Statehouse grounds for 54 years. Giving an impassioned eulogy at Pinckney's funeral, Obama too called for the Confederate flag to be removed from places of honor.
Within weeks of the shooting, the flag was removed from its 30-foot perch outside the Statehouse and taken to a museum.
Obama also called for gun control in eulogizing Pinckney, and Pinckney's widow stood beside Obama on Tuesday as he unveiled his plan to use presidential powers to tighten control and enforcement of firearms in the U.S. He insisted it was possible to uphold the Second Amendment while doing something to tackle the frequency of mass shootings in the U.S.
But Haley has staunchly defended gun rights. She holds a concealed carry permit, and she posted a picture on social media in 2013 of the handgun her husband gave her for Christmas.
Haley said she was honored to be asked to deliver the address.
"This is a time of great challenges for our country, but also of great opportunities. I intend to speak about both," she said.