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.” U.S. Constitution Article II, Section 3, Clause 1.
The U.S. Constitution is quite clear about a speech first coined by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934 as the annual State of the Union Address. It is a staple of American politics. As such, politicos, pundits, and the public have come to expect this message given by the president of the United States to Congress, usually before the end of February each year. This report detailing the current state of the country has been delayed by several presidents but rarely eliminated altogether; only two have missed it – William Henry Harrison and James Garfield.
Will Joseph R. Biden join their ranks?
History buffs maintain that an official State of the Union Address is not “delivered during the first year of a new president’s first term in office.” Instead, the speech is known as “an address to the joint session of Congress.” Semantics aside, most presidents have broadcast a message resembling the State of the Union since 1923, when Calvin Coolidge delivered his address via radio. Since then, with the notable exception of Jimmy Carter, the commander in chief has given this speech in person before a nationally televised audience.
Some new presidents have stepped up to the microphone as late as February 28, and Mr. Biden’s was tentatively set for February 23, according to both the Associated Press and PBS – but that scheduled date has come and gone.
Whatever could be the problem?
Pelosi and Psaki
White House Press Secretary and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) are now saying that the SOTU will not occur in February at all. The hold-up, according to Bloomberg News, is the Coronavirus relief bill. The Biden administration reportedly does not want to move ahead with the speech until the recovery legislation is passed. In other words, they have nothing to report until then.
The SOTU typically addresses more than just one piece of legislation. It has been known to cover foreign affairs, the U.S. economy, as well as the short- and long-term goals of the president. It is generally an address that covers the waterfront – and it is a long one, at that. To date, the new man in the Oval Office has yet to hold a live press conference and is not often seen or heard. Could it be that President Biden is not up to the challenge of delivering a 90-minute nationally televised address?
For now, the American public is left to wonder. If the president avoids this opportunity to address Congress on the big stage, one must question if he is ready, willing, and able to carry out the duties he swore to uphold just over a month ago. If the answer to that question is negative, then no speech to inform us of the state of the Union will be necessary – it will become evident soon enough.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.