The State Of The Union was originally called “The Annual Message”. Although George Washington gave the first one in person before Congress in 1790, Thomas Jefferson mailed his in. The message was then delivered in writing until the early part of the 20th Century, when Woodrow Wilson revived the tradition of speaking live before Congress and guests that has lasted through today. The State Of The Union has gone from radio to television to the Internet, and along the way picked up a formal response from the political party out of power. While the address and response have provided the country with uplifting moments, others have provided fodder for late-night comics.
Richard Nixon’s final State Of The Union was in 1974 when he was under pressure from the Watergate investigation that had already put several of his associates behind bars and that would lead to his resignation from office that summer, just ahead of sure votes to impeach and convict him. While talking about welfare reform, instead of saying ”… we must replace the discredited present welfare system”, he said ”…we must replace the discredited president … present.” He had to have known that his presidency had been discredited. Oops. He infamously called for the end of the Watergate investigation at the conclusion of the 1974 address.
While most State Of The Union addresses are uplifting, insisting, whether true or not, that the state of the union is sound, in Gerald Ford’s 1975 State Of The Union, he departed from this script to declare: ”The state of the union is not good.”
In response to Ronald Reagan’s 1985 State Of The Union, the Democrats ran a ten-minute tape featuring Democratic elected officials talking to citizens in focus groups. In between the segments, young Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton told the country: ”…clearly there is a Democratic Party in America that is alive and well.” After the Republican landslide in 1984, the Democrat’s response was awkward and hard to watch, and did little to convince anyone that the Democratic Party was alive and well.
Clinton faced hardships in advance of several of his State Of The Union addresses. Hillary Clinton was subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the Whitewater Scandal just days before her husband’s 1996 speech. The first news of the affair between Clinton and Monica Lewinsky leaked just before his 1998 address. The opening statements of Clinton’s defense team during the Senate impeachment trial began just hours before his 1999 address. Clinton rose above the scandals and touted the success of his economic policies. He made no mention of the various controversies in any of these addresses. This baffled the press and impressed the people.
Republicans have made a mess of their responses too. Often the person chosen to deliver the opposing Party’s response is a rising star…at the time. The rising star chosen to respond to Obama’s 2010 State Of The Union was Republican Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who was convicted of corruption a few weeks later.
In response to Obama’s 2011 State Of The Union, Republicans offered up the always charming Michele Bachmann who delivered her entire address looking at the wrong camera.
After the 2015 address, New York Republican Congressperson Michael Grimm was hanging out on the balcony when reporter Michael Scotto asked him about the State Of The Union and then followed up with a question about Grimm’s campaign finance irregularities. Grimm, with a camera running, yelled at Scotto: ” …if you ever do that to me again I will throw you off this fucking balcony.” Grimm pleaded guilty to felony tax fraud and acknowledged committing perjury, hiring illegal immigrants, committing wire fraud, and hiring illegal immigrants. He is currently seeking his old seat now that he has been released from federal prison.
It is considered gravely disrespectful for any lawmaker to disrupt a presidential address, but Congressperson Joe Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina, yelled: “You lie!” at President Barack Obama’s State Of The Union in 2009.
With tensions running high ahead of POTU’s first State Of The Union speech, who knows what kinds of outbursts the evening might bring.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told House Democrats not to interrupt Trump and instead:
“… let the attention be on his slobbering self. If his nose isn’t running and he isn’t burping, he did a great speech.”
She said that if Democrats want to protest, they should join the group that is boycotting. Pelosi:
“If you want to walk out, don’t come in…”
Tonight’s response will be delivered by handsome Representative Joseph Kennedy III, the 37-year-old Democrat from Massachusetts and a grandson of Robert F. Kennedy. He attended Stanford University and Harvard Law School and worked with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic before becoming a prosecutor. He won a House seat opened by Barney Frank’s retirement in 2012.