State of the Union Address

The State of the Union is an annual address in which the President of the United States reports on the status of the country, normally to a joint session of Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate). It has occurred in January (except for six occasions in February) since 1934. Sometimes, especially in recent years, newly-inaugurated Presidents have delivered speeches to joint sessions of Congress only weeks into their respective terms, but these are not officially considered State of the Union addresses. The 2007 Address took place on January 23 2007 at 9:01 PM EST.

The address is also most frequently used to outline the President's legislative proposals for the upcoming year.

Modeled after the monarch's Speech from the Throne during the State Opening of Parliament in the United Kingdom, such a report is required by the United States Constitution. Note that there is no requirement that the speech must take place annually:
[The President] 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." (Article II, Section 3)''

History

George Washington gave the first State of the Union address on January 8, 1790 in New York City, then the provisional U.S. capital. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson discontinued the practice of delivering the address in person, regarding it as too monarchical (similar to the Speech from the Throne). Instead, the address was written and then sent to Congress to be read by a clerk until 1913 when Woodrow Wilson re-established the practice despite some initial controversy. However, there have been exceptions to this rule. Presidents during the latter half of the 20th Century have sent written State of the Union addresses. The last President to do this was Jimmy Carter in 1981.[1]

For many years, the speech was referred to as "the President's Annual Message to Congress." The actual term "State of the Union" did not become widely used until after 1935 when Franklin D. Roosevelt began using the phrase.

Prior to 1934 the annual message was delivered at the end of the calendar year, in December. The ratification of Amendment XX on January 23, 1933 changed the opening of Congress from early March to early January, affecting the delivery of the annual message. Since 1934, the message or address has been delivered to Congress in January or February. Today, the speech is typically delivered on the last Tuesday in January, although there is no such provision written in law, and it varies from year to year.

The Twentieth Amendment also established January 20 as the beginning of the presidential term. In years when a new president is inaugurated, the outgoing president may deliver a final State of the Union message, but none has done so since Jimmy Carter in 1981. In 1953 and 1961, Congress received both a written State of the Union message from the outgoing president and a separate State of the Union speech by the incoming president. Since 1989, in recognition that the responsibility of reporting the State of the Union formally belongs to the president who held office during the past year, newly inaugurated Presidents have not officially called their first speech before Congress a "State of the Union" message.

Calvin Coolidge's 1923 speech was the first to be broadcast on radio. Harry S. Truman's 1947 address was the first to be broadcast on television. Lyndon Johnson's address in 1965 was the first delivered in the evening. Bill Clinton gave his 1999 address while his impeachment trial was underway, and his 1997 address was the first broadcast available live on the World Wide Web.[2] Ronald Reagan was the only president to have postponed his State of the Union address. On January 28, 1986, he planned to give his address, but after learning of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, he postponed it for a week and addressed the nation on the day's events.[3]

Delivery of the speech

Enlarge picture
President George W. Bush with Vice President Dick Cheney and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the 2007 State of the Union address. Note the tinted transparent teleprompters.
Ordinarily, the President himself is not permitted to enter the House Chamber without the explicit permission of Congress. For each State of the Union address in which the President is going to read his remarks, a formal "invitation" is made. The President's presence upon entering the House chamber is ceremoniously announced by the Doorkeeper of the United States House of Representatives, who calls out, "Mister/Madam Speaker, the President of the United States!" The President enters the chamber to a standing ovation and spends several minutes greeting members of Congress while walking toward the podium at the front and center of the House chamber. Once there, the President hands copies of the address to the Vice President of the United States (as President of the Senate) and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, both of whom sit behind and above the President for the duration of the speech. If either is unavailable, the next highest-ranking member of the respective house substitutes.

Sitting near the front of the chamber are the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Justices of the Supreme Court, and the members of the President's Cabinet. Customarily, one cabinet member (the designated survivor) does not attend, in order to provide continuity in the line of succession in the event that a catastrophe disables the President, the Vice President, and other succeeding officers gathered in the House chamber. Additionally, since the September 11, 2001 attacks, a few members of Congress have been asked to relocate to undisclosed locations for the duration of the speech. Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) (the longest serving Senator in history) does not attend the State of the Union Address, opting instead to watch it at home on TV.

Enlarge picture
President Bill Clinton with Vice President Al Gore and Speaker Newt Gingrich during the 1997 State of the Union address. Note the transparent teleprompters.


Once the chamber settles down from the President's arrival and the attendees take their seats, the Speaker then taps the gavel and officially presents the President to the joint session of Congress by saying something similar to the following: "Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the President of the United States." Another standing ovation commences before the President finally begins the address.

The President delivers the speech (with the aid of dual transparent teleprompters) from the podium at the front of the House chamber. State of the Union speeches usually last a little over an hour. Part of the length of the speech is due to the large amounts of applause that occur from the audience throughout. The applause is somewhat political in tone, with many portions of the speech only being applauded by members of the President's own party. Applause typically indicates support, while applause with a standing ovation indicates enthusiastic support. An exception occurred in 2006 when a large number of Democrats, then the minority party, responded with a standing ovation to the President's statement that "Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security."[4] Members of the Supreme Court rarely applaud or participate in standing ovations during the speech. It is believed that as the judicial branch they must remain impartial to any political positions, statements or objectives stated during the speech. The Joint Chiefs of Staff applaud statements regarding foreign policy to support the orders of the Commander-in-Chief, but they do not applaud or participate in standing ovations for statements of domestic policy, as it is believed the military should not interfere with domestic policy. However, all join in the ovations that occur before the speech begins, because by tradition it is the office being applauded and not the person holding it (and, in fact, the President is never introduced by name).

In the State of the Union the President traditionally outlines the administration's accomplishments over the previous year, as well as the agenda for the coming year, in upbeat and optimistic terms. At some point during the speech, the President usually says "The State of our Union is strong" or a very similar phrase.[5] Since the 1982 address, it has also become common for the President to acknowledge special guests sitting near the First Lady in the gallery, such as everyday Americans or visiting Heads of State. The guests are usually relevant to some part of the President's speech, and are referred to by the speechwriters as Lenny Skutniks after the first such guest.

State of the Union Address in popular culture

  • In the 2005 film the Secretary of Defense uses the State of the Union gathering as a way to take out the President, Vice President and other member of the presidential line of succession, in order for him to accede to the presidency.
  • In ABC's Commander in Chief, after a harmful rider is attached to President Allen's Homeless Initiative Bill, President Allen changes her plans for the State of the Union Address. The President informs Congress at the last minute that she will be presenting her speech via television form the Oval Office, and not at the Capitol Building. At the beginning of the address, she announces the veto of her own bill, and calls on the voter to be more selective in elections and reform the political process.
  • Punk rock group, Rise Against recorded a song entitled "State of the Union" which is one of the many political based songs on their third album. Lyrics read,
"State of the union address, reads war torn country still a mess. The words: power, death, and distorted truth are read between the lines of the red, white, and blue"

Recent addresses

Opposition response

Since 1966,[6] the speech has been followed on television by a response or rebuttal by a member of the political party opposing the President's party. The response is typically broadcast from a studio with no audience. This is the norm, but not the rule. In 1970, the Democrats put together a TV program with their speech to reply to President Nixon. The same thing was done by Democrats for President Reagan's speeches in 1982 and 1983. In 1997, Oklahoma congressman J.C. Watts delivered the Republican response to that year's speech in front of high school students sponsored by the Close Up Foundation.[7] In 2004, the Democrats delivered their response in Spanish, delivered by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.[8] After President George W. Bush's 2006 State of the Union address, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine delivered the Democratic Party's response in English while Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gave a response in Spanish.[9] Virginia Senator Jim Webb made the 2007 response[10] and Rep. Xavier Becerra of California delivered the Spanish version.[11]

Local versions

Certain states have a similar annual address given by the governor, called the "State of the State" address. In Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, this speech is called the "State of the Commonwealth" address. American Samoa, a US Territory, has a "State of the Territory" address given by the governor. Some cities also have an annual address given by the mayor. Some presidents of a university give a "State of the University" address at the beginning of every academic term.

Media

See also

References

1. ^ Gerhard Peters. State of the Union Messages. The American Presidency Project. Retrieved on 2006-09-25. ([1]
2. ^ [2]
3. ^ [3]
4. ^ [4]
5. ^ Ted Widmer. "The State of the Union Is Unreal", The New York Times, 2006-01-31. Retrieved on 2007-01-22. 
6. ^ Office of the Clerk. Opposition Responses to State of the Union Messages (1966-Present). Retrieved on 2007-01-23.
7. ^ Richard E. Sincere, Jr.. "O.J., J.C., and Bill: Reflections on the State of the Union", Metro Herald, February 1997. Retrieved on 2007-01-23. “Watts told his audience -- about 100 high school students from the CloseUp Foundation watched in person, while a smaller number watched on television at home -- that he is "old enough to remember the Jim Crow" laws that affected him and his family while he grew up in a black neighborhood in small-town Oklahoma. 
8. ^ Byron York. "The Democratic Response You Didn’t See", January 21, 2004. Retrieved on 2007-01-23. “And then there was the Spanish-language response — the first ever — delivered by New Mexico governor, and former Clinton energy secretary, Bill Richardson. 
9. ^ Democratic National Committee. "Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa Will Deliver the Democratic Response to the President's State of the Union Address in Spanish". Retrieved on 2007-01-23. “Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi announced today that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will deliver the Democratic response to President Bush's State of the Union Address in Spanish on January 31st. 
10. ^ Gail Russell Chaddock. "Sen. Jim Webb to rebut State of the Union", The Christian Science Monitor, January 23, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-01-23. “Tuesday night, Senator Webb is giving the Democratic response to this year's State of the Union – an unusually high profile for a freshman. 
11. ^ Office of the Speaker. "Becerra to Deliver the Democratic Response to the President's State of the Union Address in Spanish", 2007-01-16. Retrieved on 2007-01-23. “Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced today that Congressman Xavier Becerra of California, Assistant to the Speaker, will deliver the official Democratic response in Spanish to President Bush's State of the Union Address on January 23, 2007. 

External links

State of the Union may refer to the following:
  • State of the Union (USA), the annual message of the President of the United States
  • "State of the Union (play)" - a 1946 play by Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay
  • State of the Union (film)

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