Everything you need to know about the State of the Union address
WASHINGTON DC — On Tuesday, President Donald Trump will speak to Congress and the American people in his first official State of the Union address. Here is everything you need to know about the annual remarks.
The concept for a State of the Union address is enshrined in Article II, Section 3, Clause I of the Constitution, which states 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.”
According to the National Archives, George Washington first gave his “annual message” to Congress on January 8, 1790, in the Senate Chamber of Federal Hall in New York City — which was then the temporary seat of government.
The third president, Thomas Jefferson, broke with his predecessors for his State of the Union address, electing to deliver his message in writing. Jefferson set a precedent that lasted for more than 100 years, until President Woodrow Wilson spoke in person to a joint session of Congress in 1913, according to the Archives.
President Calvin Coolidge’s first — and only — address in 1923 was the first to be broadcast nationally on the radio, according to the Coolidge Foundation.
President Franklin Roosevelt was the first to call his speech the “State of the Union” address, according to the Senate Historical Office, and the term was made official under President Harry Truman.
Truman’s was the first to be televised in 1947, but President Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 address was the first to be broadcast in prime time, per the House Historical Office. President George W. Bush’s address in 2002 was the first to be streamed on the internet.
President Bill Clinton holds the record for the longest State of the Union address. His 2000 address ran one hour, 28 minutes, 49 seconds, according to the American Presidency Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Washington had the shortest address, with his 1790 speech spanning just 833 words. It is believed to have lasted only 10 minutes.
Presidents William Henry Harrison and James Garfield never delivered a State of the Union address. Both died in office before they were able to.
President Barack Obama is the only African-American, president or not, to have ever addressed a joint session of Congress.
The State of the Union address has been postponed only once, in 1986. President Ronald Reagan’s address was originally scheduled on the same day as the Challenger space shuttle explosion. It was delayed until the following week in light of the tragedy.
The opposition response
Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen and House Minority Leader Gerald Ford delivered the first opposition response to a State of the Union address in 1966. According to the Senate Historical Office, the rebuttals continued sporadically throughout the next decade and became an established tradition in 1982.
Rep. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts will deliver the Democratic response to Trump’s address. Kennedy, 37, is seen as a rising star in a party that has many in the senior ranks, well into their 70s.
The Massachusetts congressman comes from one of the most prominent families in American politics as the great-nephew of former President John F. Kennedy. He will follow in the footsteps of his great-uncle, Sen. Ted Kennedy, who was part of a group response to President Ronald Reagan’s State of the Union in 1982.
The designated survivor
At least one member of the President’s Cabinet is selected to stay behind from the speech each year in case of emergency. The designated survivor goes to a distant, secure and undisclosed location outside Washington while everyone else gathers to listen to the President’s address in the Capitol.
The designated survivor must be eligible to be president, and if a higher-ranking successor survives a potential incident, that person would become president ahead of the designated survivor. The practice started in the 1960s, during the Cold War, when there were fears of a nuclear attack.
Last year’s designated survivor was Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.
Reagan started the tradition of acknowledging guests when he recognized Lenny Skutnik, a federal employee turned hero, in his 1982 speech. The guests sit in the first lady’s section of the gallery.
Many times these guests are ordinary citizens who may serve as a human connection to parts of the president’s agenda for the year to come. Not all of the guests are necessarily recognized in the speech. Rosa Parks, Sammy Sosa and Hank Aaron are among the more well-known names who have been recognized, according to the American Presidency Project.
Last year, the President and first lady Melania Trump hosted:
- Megan Crowley, a 20-year-old Notre Dame sophomore diagnosed with Pompe disease
- Jessica Davis and Susan Oliver, the widows of slain Detective Michael Davis and Deputy Sheriff Danny Oliver, respectively
- Denisha Merriweather, a first generation graduate
- Maureen McCarthy Scalia, widow of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
- Jamiel Shaw Sr., whose son, Jamiel Jr., was shot and killed by an undocumented immigrant
- Carryn Owens, the widow of slain Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, who was killed during an operation in Yemen in January 2017.
The White House has not yet released the list of guests for this year’s address. However, several members of Congress said they will bring victims and survivors of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements as their guests this year.
The State of the Union is delivered in the chamber of the House of Representatives with members of both the House and the Senate, as well as the justices of the Supreme Court, members of the president’s cabinet and the diplomatic corps in attendance.
The president is escorted into the chamber by members of both the House and the Senate, and their arrival is announced by the sergeant-at-arms of the House of Representatives. The speaker of the House introduces the president.
The top members of each chamber of Congress are seated behind the president during the address: the vice president (who is the president of the Senate) and the speaker of the House. The president pro tempore of the Senate sits in the vice president’s seat if the vice president is not in attendance.