The State of the Union is…


The constitution imposes this burden on Presidents:

He 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 tradition for the last 80 years or a bit more is that the president gives a state of the union address to a joint session of congress. However, the constitution does not require that “information of the State of the Union” be communicated orally, or to both houses of congress simultaneously. “[F]rom time to time” doesn’t even impose any particular frequency requirement. Trump could have claimed, had he not wanted to deliver a SotU speech, that he was constantly giving information on what he thought about the SotU through his daily tweets. Past presidents have simply written letters to congress.

Even in more recent decades when a speech to a joint session  of congress has been given by presidents in fulfillment of this clause, the topics of the speech – what’s going on in the US at the time and what things the President finds it necessary to strive to do over the next little while – are exactly the same as the topics of presidential inaugural addresses. As a result, a State of the Union speech too soon after an inauguration would redundant, and certainly not worth the effort and pomp associated with SotU addresses nowadays. For that reason, recent tradition is that an elected President will deliver one inaugural and 3 SotU addresses per term. (It’s hard to say what the “norm” would be for a presdent who was elevated between elections because of the death, resignation, or permanent incapacity of the elected president.)

All these historical facts, as well as the plain text of the constitution, are now being ignored by quite a number of numbskulls on the Right at the moment. They are now arguing that the fact that February has come and gone without a joint session of congress  being scheduled to receive the SotU address (they usually occur late January or early to mid February) means something very significant. Some seem to think that this indicates that Biden is unable to muster the stamina for a public event lasting more than an hour. Others seem to think this vindicates Q and proves that Biden knows in his heart that he is not president. Still others seem to think that even if Biden was properly elected, his failure to deliver a SotU speech within a month of his inauguration constitutionally disqualifies him from further service. (It’s unclear if they mean he is simply and automatically no longer president of if they mean that this is grounds for impeachment and congress, on this basis should vote to remove him.)

I could post a bunch of their idiotic tweets here, but honestly if you just search for #SotU on twitter you’ll get more than you ever wanted, and because of the longer-format writing on Facebook, the really amazingly ridiculous stuff is to be found there anyway.

So feel free to look them up and laugh at them if you desire. I don’t need to look up more than I’ve already seen from a friend who forwarded a couple to me & asked if there was anything to their “argument”. I just need to put this here so that no one is accidentally taken in by the argument. It’s an inauguration year. Even if you were skeptical of the extreme constitutionally-disqualifying form of this criticism (or knew enough to simply reject it straight off), I wouldn’t want either of my readers to think that there was anything even remotely abnormal here. This is the way an inauguration year is supposed to go.




  1. StonedRanger says

    If his state of the union address doesnt start with ‘After fours years of having the worst president in history, the state of the union is still shit. But we are working on making it better’, Its just going to be so much BS.

  2. Ridana says

    Why in the hell were the Flounders so fucking vague about everything in the Constitution? “From time to time”? What kind of guidance/rule is that? “You never call, you never write, and would it kill you to come over to the House from time to time?” As the Previous Occupant demonstrated, there are enough loopholes in the thing to sail a fleet of tankers through.

  3. lanir says

    So… I haven’t run into any of this sort of yahoo* but I’m guessing that like the xtian bible, the more people refer to the US constitution the less likely they are to have read a word of it?

    Also, apologies for being at least the third reader when you were only expecting two.

    * I live in the Midwest. Generally when people are comfortable being ignorant here they’re not shy about it. They’re perfectly happy to be completely ignorant. They don’t use props like the constitution, they just spew forth whatever word salad they feel like.

  4. says

    Our equivalent here is something called “The Queen’s Speech”.

    Prior to every parliament the MPs from the House of Commons trudge across to the House of Lords. There, the Queen sets out the government legislative agenda for the next parliament. It is her government after all.

    There’s a bit of tradition to it. Someone called Black Rod attends on the Commons to invite them and the Commons slam the door in his/her face. To show their independence from the Crown. Eventually they always come round though.

    There’s a sort of constitutional element too. There’s no fixed rules on how many parliaments a govt has to have whilst they’re in office; but each one starts with a QS. However the first QS after an election will usually reflect the winning party’s manifesto obviously; and there’s a convention that the courts will not judicially review government decisions or law reflecting manifesto promises.

    There’s also a thing called the Autumn Statement. The Chancellor makes that. That’s all financial stuff. Usually that’s prior to ‘The Budget’ which is an annual thing (except when we have covid) where all the new tax stuff and benefit changes are announced. Then the newspapers translate that with examples like “If you’re a family of four with income of…” etc.. Most people just want to know if beer and petrol is going up though.

    We also have that circus twice a week of Prime Ministers Questions. As the name suggests MPs ask the PM questions and the PM tries not to say anything too daft.

  5. jrkrideau says

    @ 4 Alan Robertshaw
    On my side of the pond, Question Period has turned into the Opposition asking questions that make one wonder if the questioners know what country they are in . The only problem the PM has in answering is restraining himself from calling them blithering idiots. We really need a better quality of Opposition.

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