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2024 U.S. General Elections

Katie Britt is the long shot Trump VP pick showing there's no such thing as bad publicity

Rachel Barber

WASHINGTON - As the internet mocked Kate Britt for her dramatic performance during the Republican response to the State of the Union earlier this year, the Alabama senator said she was soaking it all in, excited that Saturday Night Live had chosen Scarlett Johansson to play her just three days later in its opening sketch.

“I actually was pretty pumped about that,” the 42-year-old freshman lawmaker told her colleague, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on his podcast 'Verdict.' “I mean, my crime was like putting too much passion, too much heart and soul behind the issues that I genuinely care about. And they slaughtered me across the airways.”

During her response, delivered from her kitchen in Montgomery, Alabama, Britt criticized President Joe Biden's border policies by telling a harrowing story about a child who was sex trafficked. But the anecdote actually took place in Mexico while President George W. Bush was in the White House.

There was plenty more to get people talking from Britt's 17-minute speech, all of which combined to help get her name trending on Google and where her social media engagement skyrocketed as people fact-checked and reacted to the televised address that some saw as an audition to join Donald Trump as his running mate on the 2024 Republican presidential ticket.

Britt's ultimate chances of getting picked, by all measure, appear to be diminishing. Trump told NBC News before last week's first presidential debate that the person he's picked would likely show up in Atlanta to support him. More than a half dozen prominent Republicans seen as likely VP choices, including Britt's Senate colleagues J.D. Vance, Tim Scott and Marco Rubio, attended a local watch party before fanning out in the spin room at CNN studios to play up the former president's chances of winning back the White House. As for Britt, she sent USA TODAY a supportive statement about Trump but watched the live coverage from Alabama.

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Location aside, there are still legitimate reasons why Britt remains a part of the conversation for a job working for Trump that should make his campaign pay attention. Her Senate campaign, which had received one $60 donation from a large donor the day before her State of the Union rebuttal, collected $16,000 in large donations in the hours surrounding her viral SNL-inspiring moment. Even more money came in for the following month. Britt has also been successful since taking office last year at making friends in high places, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who called her his "favorite freshman" in April.

“I think the sky is the limit for Katie Britt,” Alabama Republican Party Chairman John Wahl told USA TODAY, praising his home state's new senator as someone who can reach demographics the GOP sometimes struggles with by appealing to disengaged voters. “She's young. She's ambitious. She's already shown her capabilities and her effectiveness in DC, and I would not take anything off the table.” 

In an exclusive interview last week, Britt skirted a direction question about her own prospects of landing the job that would put her a heartbeat away from the most important job on the planet. She insisted on keeping her conversations with Trump private but did confirm they have spoken recently.

"I certainly am excited to continue to work with him, before him winning in November," Britt said by telephone. "I feel like I will be a really strong ally in the United States Senate to continue to push for the America First agenda."

Britt's calculated deflection came on the same day several other potential VP contenders were appearing on Fox News with their spouses, playing up their own prospects for the role and even in the case of Vance acknowledging there'd be a "bit of disappointment" if he didn't get picked.

U.S. Senate candidate Katie Britt delivers her primary race victory speech during an election night party in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

More:Trump's VP options: Sizing up their pros and cons from J.D. Vance to Kari Lake

From 'assistant' to 'America First Warrior'

Britt, a lawyer from Enterprise, Alabama, first turned heads while serving as student president at the University of Alabama. When she graduated, she turned an internship with then-Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., into a full-time job in his Washington office.

“I’ve seen you navigate challenging, highly scrutinizing waters with the campus press. If you can duplicate that up here, you’ll be just fine,” Britt recalls Shelby saying in her 2023 memoir “God Calls Us To Do Hard Things.”

She served as his deputy press secretary and then press secretary on Capitol Hill and later went back to the University of Alabama for law school before working a few years for a private law firm in Birmingham. In 2015, Britt returned to Shelby's orbit as his campaign communications director and deputy campaign manager, before serving as his chief of staff from 2016 to 2018. She also did a stint as president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama from 2019 to 2021 before launching her Senate campaign when Shelby announced his retirement.

In the Alabama Senate GOP primary, Britt ran against Rep. Mo Brooks, a conservative who had Trump’s early endorsement. In that heated race, the former president issued a statement a month after Britt launched her campaign calling her a “RINO,” or Republican in name only, and Shelby’s “assistant.”

“She is not in any way qualified and is certainly not what our Country needs or not what Alabama wants,” Trump said in July 2021, noting as well Shelby was a "close friend of Old Crow Mitch McConnell."

Britt replied two days later in a video, saying that the former president's comments did not scare her and that people want someone “fighting for Christian conservative values and putting Alabama first.” In the months following, Britt’s success fundraising and in the polls appeared to earn her Trump's respect. In March 2022, he pulled his endorsement from Brooks and started supporting her campaign. 

In a statement, Trump accused Brooks of going “woke” after the congressman said Republicans should put the 2020 presidential election that Biden won behind them. Britt would say she believes there was “fraud” involved in the 2020 election.

“Katie Britt, on the other hand, is a fearless America First Warrior,” Trump said during the 2022 race. “Katie is an Incredible Fighter for the people of Alabama.”

Trump's presidential campaign website has also removed its original July 2021 statement criticizing Britt, replacing it with a "404" message that included a short GIF video of Biden falling down the stairs while walking to Air Force One.

Speaking with USA TODAY last week, Britt said she and her husband first met Trump when he visited Alabama while she was on the 2022 campaign trail.

"We knew that we were best to push forward the very things that President Trump fought for," Britt said. "As we continued to tell our message, I am grateful that that message also resonated with President Trump."

More:A look into the VP vetting process, what it might mean for Trump

An appeal from a young mom

After winning the Senate race in 2022, Britt became Alabama’s first female senator and the youngest Republican woman ever elected in a chamber where seniority had long been considered the lynchpin to success. She's now just one of three millennials in a 100-person legislative body that remains dominated by Baby Boomers and a growing core of Generation Xers.

True to the times and the partisan siloed media landscape, Britt has not been shy about courting controversy. In May, she proposed the MOMS Act, which would create a government website with resources for pregnant women and an opt-in database of them. Fact-checkers had a field day with her bill. Democrats blocked it.

In a campaign season where restoring abortion rights is central to Democratic strategies, Britt describes herself as “100% unapologetically pro-life." She is a proponent of in vitro fertilization, a stance that made headlines after theAlabama state Supreme Court upended fertility practices with a ruling that frozen embryos are legally protected as children earlier this year.

On Capitol Hill, she's been in the middle of several recent high-profile fights over bills that have no chance of becoming law but are sure to be used in party messaging to voters. Alongside Cruz, she co-sponsored an alternative to the The Right to IVF Act, a Democrat-backed proposal that failed in the Senate without GOP support. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called the Britt-Cruz legislation “a PR tool, plain and simple.”

Britt also joined Republicans in rejecting The Right to Contraception Act, although she said she supports a women's right to birth control. Because birth control is already available across the country, she argued to USA TODAY that what the Democrats were pushing was just part of their "summer of scare tactics."

"It's hard to get unanimous agreement that the sky is blue in Washington, D.C.," Britt said. "It's been an interesting 18 months, but I feel like I have found my way through those things and in a way that ultimately gives Alabama an even better seat at the table."

U.S. Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala., spoke at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville on April 2, 2024.

More:VP Final Four? Donald Trump seeks info from Burgum, Rubio, Vance, and Scott

A 'star' for the GOP

Being a conservative Christian mom of school-aged children, Britt told USA TODAY, informs her decisions in the Senate.

"I don't have to ask people what it's like to raise a family right now," she said. "Or what is it like to run carpool or what is it like to deal with social media."

That's the perspective she was trying to get across to the country when she addressed kitchen-table issues while delivering her widely-mocked State of the Union response to Biden.

Her performance won praise from Trump, who in a Truth Social post afterward called the Alabama senator a "GREAT contrast to an Angry, and obviously very Disturbed ‘President.'"

“She was compassionate and caring, especially concerning Women and Women’s Issues. Her conversation on Migrant Crime was powerful and insightful," Trump added.

U.S. Senator Katie Britt hugs former Senator Richard Shelby following the ceremony naming the federal courthouse in Tuscaloosa the Richard Shelby Federal Building and Courthouse Friday, Sept. 15, 2023.

If Trump did select Britt as his running mate, she would be the second woman to join a Republican presidential ticket after Sarah Palin. If they were to win in November, she would become the country's second female vice president after Kamala Harris

While the Palin nomination was risky for then-Sen. John McCain's presidential bid and ultimately unsuccessful, it generated headlines (and a recurring SNL character played by Tina Fey). It’s also not uncommon for presidential candidates to choose a running mate who “balances” them out, though it’s not clear if Trump picking Britt would help him court younger Americans and women, said Julia Azari, a political science professor at Marquette University.

“I think it’ll still attract a fair amount of media coverage, although the novelty may be kind of wearing off. It’s not totally clear that is what the coalition is crying out for,” Azari said. “It's likely that there will be a lot of smoke and not a lot of fire around the age issue.”

At this point, even if Britt is not selected to join the Republican presidential ticket this November, she has convinced some of her colleagues she has a bright future in the GOP. Britt “could and should do anything she wants," said Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.

“She is the sort of face of the Republican Party I would love to see all over the place,” added Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. “I would be a rubber stamp for any administration appointment she would be put forward for.”

Fellow Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville said in an interview that Britt would “be good” in a future Trump administration. But the former college football coach-turned-lawmaker said that living in Washington full time probably wouldn't be something Britt gets "fired up about" given that she is also raising young children.

“I think she’s in a good position right now in the Senate,” Tuberville said. “She’s young – she's got a lot of time left.” 

Vance, thought to be at the top of Trump’s vice-presidential short list, is also raising young children. 

Speaking with USA TODAY, Britt said she is happy where she currently is in the Senate. A newly-elected official at a time when both the current and most recent former presidents are both nearly twice her age, Britt acknowledged she has a long career ahead.

"I am so excited to have the opportunity to represent the people of Alabama. I mean, this is truly an honor of a lifetime," she said. "I will obviously serve in whatever capacity, meaning, I'm going to work diligently to move President Trump's agenda forward and do whatever I can to put America back on track."

Rachel Barber is a 2024 election fellow at USA TODAY, focusing on politics and education. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter, as @rachelbarber_

Contributing: Riley Beggin, Victor Hagan.

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