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An Annual Message

February 4, 2019
Weekly Columns

While the State of the Union is certainly one of the greatest American ceremonies, it is much more than a production that takes place each year. Indeed, the gathering adds record to our history, affirming our founding principles and demonstrating our striving still toward a more perfect union.

The president rendering an annual message is called for in the Constitution. In fact, it fulfills the requirement in Article II, Section 3 that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” The first State of the Union address was delivered by George Washington in 1790. When Thomas Jefferson became our third president, he chose to provide a written message rather than an in-person address. Other presidents followed Jefferson’s example of sending a letter. But in 1913, Woodrow Wilson restored the speech format. Now for more than a century, presidents of both political parties have participated in this constitutional exercise by traveling to the U.S. Capitol and delivering an address in the House chamber.

To this day, the State of the Union remains a unique platform. It gives the president the opportunity to address lawmakers in both chambers of Congress, justices of the Supreme Court, the president’s Cabinet, members of the Diplomatic Corps and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Most importantly, the time lent to the president in the House chamber allows him to speak to the American people.  

Over the years, the message has served different purposes for different presidents. Sometimes it has been used to rally support for policies. In times of crisis, it has been used to provide words of comfort and hope. At other times, it has been used to heal partisan divisions. But for every president, the message has served as a reminder to all Americans of how fortunate we are to live in the greatest Republic and Democracy in the history of the world.

Throughout my service in Congress, I have been honored to attend every State of the Union address brought by three different presidents. I have attended and thoughtfully listened with respect—whether I agreed with the sitting president or not. While the president is expected to deliver an annual message, it cannot be delivered in the House chamber without an invitation and approval of a congressional resolution.

Obviously, there has been a lot of political tension and partisan disagreement in recent weeks as a result of the partial government shutdown. I am disappointed that Speaker Pelosi cancelled an earlier invitation to President Trump for his annual address. But I am pleased that the president chose not to seek an alternate venue. By respecting Speaker Pelosi’s authority and staying true to his word, he preserved a valuable American tradition. Like presidents of the past, President Trump deserves the same opportunity to address the American people on the pressing issues facing our country in a setting that is both visually magnificent and historically significant.

Especially in this era of divided government, it is my hope that this year’s address can mark a new beginning and encourage both sides to work together. I look forward to hearing what President Trump has to say this week and sharing my thoughts on the content of his speech in another column soon.