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Patricia A. O'Malley

Social Policy & Programs Consulting

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The president is required to report "from time to time".

The law does not require the report to be in person, on television,

in January, or even once a year.

The report can be in writing, in private meetings, or on Twitter. (Imagine that.)

It can occur more or less often.

If he wanted to, Biden could e-mail every member of Congress every day.

Several presidents have delivered written messages.

The American Presidency Project has issued a full report on SOTU addresses.

State of the Union Address 2023: Myths and Facts
Americans don’t know this stuff because our schools don’t bother to teach it.
​February 7, 2023


Every year, the president delivers his State of the Union address to a special joint session of Congress.
Joe Biden, our 46th president, will do so tonight, February 7, 2023.  It will be televised live, as usual.

For the past fourteen years, I’ve posted articles describing the purpose, history, and process of the SOTU. 

They’ve all been pretty much the same.  There is very little law and much tradition surrounding the annual address.

The U.S. Constitution divides our government into three branches: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. The courts are the judicial branch.  Congress is the Legislative, or law-making, branch.  The president heads the Executive, or management branch.  The cabinet departments are in the Executive Branch and manage the nation's daily business under the president's direction.  The president is the nation's chief executive officer, just like the CEO of a large corporation.

Eighteenth century communications weren't as fast or thorough as they are today.  So our founders required the president to report to Congress occasionally on how the nation was doing.  Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution says:

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. . . .


But Americans love a spectacle. Over the years, the process of delivering that information evolved into the exhibition we now call the State of the Union Address. The pomp and ceremony of the great assembly is all tradition. The entire Congress, all cabinet secretaries (except one), the Supreme Court justices, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the President's Executive staff, the First Lady, and distinguished guests gather in the House chamber to hear the president's words. They meet there because it was originally the only place in Washington large enough to hold such a gathering.

A president’s first address to Congress is not considered a State of the Union address because he hasn’t been in office long enough to make such observations. The departing president makes his final SOTU address shortly before Inauguration Day for the next president.

Usually, the President makes his grand entrance down the center aisle, shaking hands all the way. Traditionally, members of Congress divide themselves by party in the House and Senate chambers. All of the Democrats sit together on the left side of the center aisle; the Republicans sit on the right.

Security concerns arose over the years because all of the senior members of the government gather in one room for the event. Since all cabinet members are in the line of succession to the presidency, one member stays behind so that the government can carry on in the event of a disaster.  Again, that's by tradition, not law.  We don’t know which secretary that will be until the big event.

The Speech
While it’s not required, the speech usually includes a single-word description of "the state of the union". Since most American journalists are too frightfully lazy to do anything resembling research, they latch onto that single word like it has magic powers.  Beforehand, they speculate on what it might be. Afterward, they analyze and second-guess it.  

During his speech, the president acknowledges a few special guests.  They’re usually ordinary Americans, seated with the First Lady, who triumphed over difficult circumstances. 

In the address, the president normally recaps the past year's events and summarizes his

administration's successes and failures.  Then he lists the issues that he wants Congress to

address this year. That usually includes taxes, the economy, terrorism, social programs, and

other issues.  We can expect Biden to talk about jobs, inflation, Covid, mass shootings,

infrastructure, Build Back Better, and probably the Chinese spy balloon.

The Republicans will likely have a stunt or two on display.

Since the internet’s debut, the White House website has always included a preview of the State of the Union Address about a week before the event.  There’s no information about this year’s SOTU on the site.

After the Speech
Immediately afterward, the TV talking heads pontificate about the magic word, the spectacle, the speech, the president’s proposals, the gaffes, the special guests, the First Lady’s wardrobe, any unusual occurrences, and what it all means for America.

Again by tradition, the news networks give television time to a member of the opposing party to deliver a rebuttal after the President’s speech.  Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders will do that this year.

Watch the Address
You can join 30 million of your friends and neighbors watching the speech live on C-Span and on most of the major television networks.

If you’ve never paid much attention to your government, this is a good time and place to start.
You may not “do” politics, but politics sure does you.  Get the popcorn!

For More Information
The White House
The American Presidency Project: State of the Union Addresses and Messages
Read the Constitution

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