President Obama is set to deliver his sixth State of the Union address to all three branches of the government and the American people on Tuesday night. The speech, which has become a tradition in D.C., comes at an important time for the president, as his poll numbers have remained stagnant while he struggles to carve out his legacy and get his agenda passed in the face of a recalcitrant legislative branch.
But before Obama’s big speech, here’s a look at some of the most talked-about State of the Union moments from the past 40 years.
President Richard Nixon, 1974: ‘One year of Watergate is enough’
The defiant Republican tried to put what he called “the so-called Watergate” scandal behind him, insisting he had given authorities all the information they need. “I believe the time has come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this matter to an end. “One year of Watergate is enough,” he said. Nixon, of course, resigned later that year.
President Ronald Reagan, 1982: The George Washington quip
The Republican poked fun of himself and took a jab at the media with a reference to the first president, noting: President Washington began this tradition in 1790 after reminding the nation that the destiny of self-government and the ‘preservation of the sacred fire of liberty’ is ‘finally staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people,’” he said. Reagan, the oldest president first elected at the age of 69, added: For our friends in the press, who place a high premium on accuracy, let me say: l did not actually hear George Washington say that.”
President Ronald Reagan, Jan. 1986: The speech that did not happen
The only time a State of the Union speech was postponed was on Jan. 28, 1986 when the space shuttle “Challenger” exploded, resulting in the death of seven astronauts in front of a live television audience. Reagan gave brief remarks later that night from the Oval Office, and delivered his official SOTU speech on Feb. 4.
President Bill Clinton, 1996: ‘Era of big government is over’
The Democrat delivered one of the most famous State of the Union lines as he discussed the economy and the federal government’s role. The country had just gone through a series of government shutdowns. “The era of big government is over,” said Clinton. “But we cannot go back to the time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves. Instead we must go forward as one America, one nation working together to meet the challenges we face.”
President George W. Bush, 2002: ‘Axis of Evil’
The GOPer laid out the case for going to war in Iraq, insisting North Korea, Iraq and Iran made up an “axis of evil.” The commander-in-chief declared: “States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world,” he said. “By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger.” Following the 9/11 attacks, the Iraq War was sold to the American people as a relatively easy mission that would prevent Saddam Hussein from using weapons of mass destruction. The cakewalk, however, became a quagmire. The WMDs did not exist and U.S. war planners underestimated the Iraqi insurgency.
Justice Alito, 2010: ‘Not true’
The conservative justice was criticized for being disrespectful to President Obama during his speech, in which the commander-in-chief accused the Supreme Court of allowing special interests to limitless spending in American elections. It was an awkward moment as the justices sat before the president. They all stared in silence, except Alito , who was seen shaking his head and mouthing “not true.”
President Barack Obama, 2012: ‘Spilled milk’
#JokeFail. President Obama attempted to make a joke about a “milk spill” in relation to outdated federal regulations. However, it didn’t go so well and there were audible groans in the audience. “We’ve already announced over 500 reforms, and just a fraction of them will save business and citizens more than $10 billion over the next five years. We got rid of one rule from 40 years ago that could have forced some dairy farmers to spend $10,000 a year proving that they could contain a spill - because milk was somehow classified as an oil. With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk.” However not funny the joke was, it ended up being the most tweeted moment during his State of the Union speech that year.
Sen. Marco Rubio, 2013: Awkward water break time
It was the sip seen ‘round the country. The Republican senator, during his GOP rebuttal gave much fodder to late-night comedians when he awkwardly paused and lunged for a bottle of Poland Spring water. The video quickly went viral.
President Barack Obama, 2013: ‘They deserve a vote’
In one of the most emotional moments of his address, Obama declared that the families of gun violence “deserve a vote” in Congress on a gun control bill. With families of the victims of gun violence from Newtown, Tucson and Chicago, Obama said: “I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different.” He added: “If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.” Gun control legislation failed later that year.