On Wednesday, news broke that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has told President Trump she wants to delay his State of the Union speech until after the partial government shutdown is over.
The speech is currently scheduled for 29 January. Pelosi couched her proposal in terms of “security” concerns, although the Capitol Police and the Secret Service are fully funded and on the job during the shutdown.
LU noted in our headline that it’s pretty clear Pelosi doesn’t want the president to have a high-viewership opportunity to address the American people.
But she can’t actually prevent him from doing so. She can only prevent him from doing it in the House chamber on Capitol Hill.
Trump’s constitutional requirement isn’t to deliver an oral address; he can fulfill it by delivering a summary of the state of the Union to Congress in writing. Presidents did it that way for well over 100 years, until the age of motion picture broadcasting.
But Trump can also deliver the SOTU to the people as an oral address in another venue, outside of the U.S. Capitol building.
I am by no means the only person to point this out today, and I’ve seen a lot of suggestions about Trump booking a big stadium or making an address from the border, etc. My own opinion is that delivering his address from the Oval Office would strike the right tone. Now isn’t the time for spectacle (which in fact is a good reason to not have the SOTU address in the House chamber, where Democrats would be sure to make it a spectacle). Now is the time for seriousness and focus.
Trump is in the White House right now, pressing, within the bounds of his constitutional role, for border security. The White House is where he should make an address to the people, quietly and without Klieg lights and music and fanfare.
He could still bring in guests, if desired, to embody major points and concerns from his SOTU speech. (Going into this mode would imply moving from the Oval Office to a larger area.) Besides the vice president, he could invite the leadership of Congress from both sides of the aisle to be present. The people would be gratified to see First Lady Melania and other members of the Trump family there.
But it needn’t turn into a free-for-all, with the whole cabinet and the Supreme Court and the Joint Chiefs having to turn out in their iconic attire. It would be better if it didn’t.
The fight we are in is the most essentially political one of our lifetimes: it’s about what national sovereignty means, and whether it is right and good, or, in Nancy Pelosi’s formulation, “immoral.” The fate of liberty and respect for human rights hangs in the balance. With national sovereignty, we can have both; without it, we will have neither.
The whole government doesn’t belong there for this year’s SOTU. Trump would accomplish the best that we need by articulating his vision of good for America, and what his efforts have achieved and will be focused on, speaking from the podium he occupies because of who elected him. In truth, the highest purpose of his 2019 SOTU is to make the case for sovereignty and the national prerogative of border security, by laying out before us the life – the value – of the nation they protect.
Congress can in turn do the same to make its members’ political points.
If the news media decided not to carry a SOTU address from the White House, it could be livestreamed, and millions of viewers would still see it. It would then be available in replayable video form as well. It should be short, probably about 20-25 minutes, and in the different venue could be blessedly free of ritual applause.
It’s hard to see a downside to this approach. Our government is not unified and in mutual back-slapping mode at the moment. That’s OK. There’s an app for that.
One hundred sixty years ago, we didn’t, couldn’t prize the false appearance of unity over the need to offload the evil practice of slavery – and thank God on bended knees for that. The decision to commit to national sovereignty, the rule of law, and an enforceable, rights-guaranteeing Constitution will require breaking the idea of one side in the debate, just as the decision to end slavery did. The political fight has to happen. Re-homing the SOTU is one of the smallest prices to pay in collateral damage.