The State of the Union Address A Symbol of Our Democracy

This evening, President Barack Obama will deliver his fifth State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. In a time when we face the most divided Congress in history, tonight we will come together as one in the House chamber to hear the President’s address. Throughout history, past presidents did not always deliver a speech before Congress or the people, which he serves. Historically, under half of all presidents actually delivered their address to Congress in person. The president is required to deliver the State of the Union by Article II, Section 3 of the United States Constitution, which mandates: “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 an expedient.”

Our nation’s first president, George Washington, who presided over the drafting of the Constitution, interpreted that passage of the new Constitution to mean he should address a joint session of Congress. Although the passage does not specify how the president delivers his message, there have been different interpretations until the early 1900s.

America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, thought delivering the president’s speech to Congress was too “imperial.” Jefferson, the chief scribe to the Declaration of Independence, preferred to send a written communication. Therefore, he wrote the President’s Annual Message, and sent it to Congress, where it was read aloud in the chamber by the clerk. This practice continued for over 100 years.

Woodrow Wilson became the next president to deliver his message personally before a joint session of Congress. Wilson revived the tradition, which Washington started in 1790, by saying, “A president is likely to read his own message rather better than a clerk would.”

With only a few exceptions, the practice of delivering the annual message is a speech before a joint session of Congress continues today.

In 1982, Ronald Regan began the practice of recognizing “distinguished citizen guests,” where he and the presidents after honor Americans for their contributions to the nation.

Every president since Reagan has continued this tradition. These special guests are usually seated with the first lady in the House Gallery.

In addition to my House colleagues, senators, cabinet secretaries, Supreme Court justices, directors of key agencies and special guests all fill the House Chamber.

When you have all the branches of the United States government in one room - it’s a dramatic backdrop. Together they become a symbol of liberty and freedom to other nations around the world.

I look forward to hearing from the President tonight. We are at a critical point in our history. Our country faces many challenges: a record amount of federal debt, millions of Americans unemployed, and an economy still struggling to recover. In addition, our men and women remain deployed around the globe in the fight against terror.

Tonight is the President’s opportunity to share with Congress how he plans to solve those challenges. I hope he will bring forward a credible plan to control federal spending, reduce our debt, and expand opportunity for all Americans.

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