Katie Britt defends use of Bush-era sex-trafficking story in SOTU response

FILE - Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala., listens during a news conference on border security at the U.S. Capitol Building on Sept. 27, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

First-term Sen. Katie Britt of Alabama, who gave the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address last week, responded to allegations that her harrowing account of a young woman’s sexual abuse intended to attack his border policies was misleading. 

Britt, 42, in the GOP response criticized current immigration policies under the Biden administration, describing how she had met a woman at the U.S.-Mexico border who told of being raped thousands of times in a sex trafficking operation run by cartels, starting at age 12.

The victim has previously spoken publicly about the abuse happening in her home country of Mexico from 2004 to 2008 — when Republican George W. Bush was the U.S. president. Yet, Britt used the account to chastise Biden's action on the border.

"We wouldn’t be OK with this happening in a third-world country. This is the United States of America, and it’s past time we start acting like it," Britt said in the Thursday night speech televised from her home in Alabama. "President Biden’s border crisis is a disgrace."

In her first years in the Senate, Britt has made immigration one of her top issues, and Republicans have seized on a surge of immigrants entering the country during Biden's term to attack the president. 

Former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination this year, blames Biden for the killing of a Georgia nursing student after an immigrant from Venezuela who entered the U.S. illegally was arrested and charged with her murder.

Jonathan Katz TikTok video 

Independent journalist Jonathan Katz revealed in a 7 minute, 23 second TikTok video on Friday that the sex trafficking of the victim mentioned by Britt on Thursday did not happen during the Biden administration nor in the United States.

Katz noted how the woman has publicly shared her personal story multiple times, including in front of Congress several years ago. 

"I don't even know what to say, except that it is just fundamentally dishonest," Katz said in the TikTok video.

On Saturday, Britt spokesman Sean Ross confirmed to The Associated Press that the senator was speaking about the account of a young Mexican woman who told of being repeatedly raped in Mexico from 2004 to 2008 — when Bush was in office.

Ross said people are still victims of "disgusting, brutal trafficking by the cartels."

Britt responds to allegations of misleading SOTU response 

When asked by FOX News Sunday if she had meant to give the impression that the trafficking and rape in question happened during the Biden administration, Britt said "No." 

"I very specifically said this is what President Biden did during his first 100 days. Minutes after coming into office, he stopped all deportations, he halted construction of the border wall, and he said, ‘I am going to give amnesty to millions.’ Those types of things act as a magnet to have more and more people here… I then contrasted it with my first 100 days," Britt said, discussing her visit to the border at the Del Rio Sector in Texas in January 2023 with fellow Republican Sens. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi

Britt continued: "To me, it is disgusting to try to silence the voice of telling the story of what it is like to be sex-trafficked."

When asked again whether Britt intended to give the impression that the abuse occurred under the Biden administration’s watch, she replied: "I very clearly said I spoke to a woman who told me about when she was trafficked when she was 12. So I didn’t say a teenager – I didn’t say a young woman." 

"[It was] a grown woman … trafficked when she was 12," she added.

She said she had recounted the victim's story to "bring some light to" sex trafficking by cartels.

The victim she was referring to — Karla Jacinto Romero — is an advocate against human trafficking and has spoken publicly about being a victim of child prostitution in Mexico, including during 2015 testimony to a subcommittee of the U.S. House. 

Romero, then 22, told the subcommittee that she was 12 when her mother threw her out on the streets, and a pimp trafficked her to more than 40,000 clients over four years. 

Romero said many of the clients were foreigners who had traveled to Mexico for sexual interactions with minors like her.

Britt's rebuttal, delivered from her own kitchen table, laid out a dark vision for the country under Democrats and warned of violence. She talked about her two children and warned that "life is getting more and more dangerous." She also called Biden a "dithering and diminished leader."

The Alabama senator, 42 and the youngest woman in the Senate, has said she wants to represent a new generation of leadership in Washington. She was endorsed by Trump in her 2022 election and has remained in touch with the former president, most recently pushing him to support in vitro fertilization after a ruling by her state's supreme court blocked some IVF procedures.

Scarlett Johannson as Sen. Katie Britt 

"Saturday Night Live" also took notice of Britt’s State of the Union rebuttal. 

During the cold open, Scarlett Johansson poked fun at Britt’s response, noting how "first and foremost, I’m a mom."

"And like any mom, I’m going to do a pivot out of nowhere into a shockingly violent story about sex trafficking, and rest assured every detail about it is real, except the year, where it took place, and who was president when it happened," Johansson joked.

This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.