Tuesday, December 30, 2014
How can the new Republican Congress signal that they are the co-equal branch of government? How can Republicans avoid being out maneuvered by President Obama?
It’s time to NOT invite President Obama to give his State of the Union Address before Congress. This is a clear and simple way Republicans can, in one master stroke, register their opposition to Obama’s Executive Orders and realign the balance between the Legislative and Executive Branches.
There is no official reason for the speech. There is not even a requirement for it to be annual. Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution only requires the President to “from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union”.
There is also no requirement that Congress grant the President the use of their Chamber for this ritualized infomercial.
On January 16, 2014, Rep. Eric Cantor sponsored H.Con.Res.75 authorizing “That the two Houses of Congress assemble in the Hall of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, January 28, 2014, at 9 p.m., for the purpose of receiving such communication as the President of the United States shall be pleased to make to them.” What if, in January 2015, no one sponsored a Concurrent Resolution or voted for it?
Republicans would prove that the Congress is a co-equal branch, not subservient to the President. They would not become a pack of trained seals clapping at dozens of cheap applause lines. They would not be the stage set for Obama's grandstanding to the nation and helping the media continue their “Obama is on the rebound” narrative.
They would also avoid being put in multiple political binds as the President introduces controversial people, daring the Republicans not to applaud. This may include Michael Brown’s and Eric Garner’s parents sitting next to the First Lady. Obama might even introduce Al Sharpton or some newly pardoned illegal aliens from his VIP delegation in the Chamber’s balcony.
Not inviting the President also brings the State of the Union back to its traditional position in American government.
President George Washington delivered the first State of the Union speech in person before a Joint Session of Congress on January 8, 1790. Since then, there have been 223 opportunities for Presidents to deliver their report. Presidents have delivered their report as a speech before a Joint Session of Congress only 98 times (44%). The other 125 times were through written communication.
George Washington and John Adams delivered their State of the Union reports as speeches, but Thomas Jefferson was more comfortable with the written word. For 113 years, no other President delivered a State of the Union speech until Democrat Woodrow Wilson on December 2, 1913. President Warren Harding continued this new practice as did Calvin Coolidge, once.
For ten years, Congress did not have to arrange a Joint Session for the State of the Union Address. Then Democrat Franklin Roosevelt asked for the forum in 1934. In 1946, President Harry Truman opted out of a formal speech because, during the previous nine months, he had spoken to five Joint Sessions of Congress relating to the end of World War II. In 1956, President Eisenhower opted out of the speech because he was still recovering from his September 24, 1955 heart attack.
No one really missed the Presidential vanity hour. Twenty six Presidents, including two of America’s greatest Presidential orators, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, choose not to speak to the Congress. Congress still operated. Legislative business continued.
Presidents issue a detailed Budget Message a few weeks after the State of the Union Report. This is a more tangible and actionable communication of the Administration’s priorities. Far more budget initiatives become reality than the dozens of empty promises made in a State of the Union address.
Congressional Republicans have an historic opportunity to reinvent government in the 21st Century.
They can start by ending this annual narcissistic charade, which promotes the image of a dominant Executive Branch. Let the President speak from the Oval Office - that would more than meet the Constitutional requirement.
[Scot Faulkner served as Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives and on President Reagan’s White House Staff]