State of the Union
President Biden to address Congress, make case to voters for re-election in 2024
Tonight, President Joe Biden will enter the chamber of the House of Representatives in the U.S. Capitol to deliver his State of the Union address.
This particular presidential duty comes directly from the Constitution. Article II, Section 3 of that document states:
“He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
The Constitution’s language does not call for the address to be delivered yearly, that has been the custom since George Washington delivered the first address on Jan. 8, 1790, to the Congress in New York .
John Adams, our second president, also delivered the address personally to Congress. But his successor, Thomas Jefferson, discontinued the practice. He thought the spectacle of the president addressing an assembled Congress put the president on a pedestal, as if he were some European monarch speaking from a throne. Since the Constitution does not require the address be delivered in person, Jefferson took to sending a written State of the Union to be read before Congress by a humble clerk
Jefferson’s view held for more than a century, until Woodrow Wilson decided to appear before Congress to deliver the address in 1913. Since then, most State of the Union addresses have been made in person, with a few exceptions. No president has sent a written address since Jimmy carter in 1981.
The State of the Union address itself is steeped in tradition. The president must be formally invited by both the House and the Senate before he can enter. The House Sergeant at Arms announces the president’s arrival. He speaks to assembled members of both the House and Senate, the vice president, the Cabinet, the Supreme Court justices, the U.S. Armed Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff and personal and honored guests.
As in years past, one Cabinet member will not attend. This is the designated survivor, who stays away to provide leadership and continuity in case some catastrophe strikes the gathering.
The speech itself gives the president the opportunity to boast of his administrations successes over the past year, outline his plans for the year ahead and add a bit of early campaigning for re-election. And, from time to time, a president also offers a mea culpa for some mishap or misstep.
Since 1966, the opposing party has delivered a televised response to the State of the Union.
Some say the State of the Union has become little more than political puffery by all concerned. We don’t entirely disagree. Still, it is important to hear what both sides have to say, if only for a preview of the battles ahead in the year to come.