Last week, shortly before Thanksgiving, the idea that congressional Republicans might block President Obama from delivering a State of the Union address first crossed the political world’s radar. The New York Times published a quote from a prominent figure in conservative media pushing the argument; Breitbart News ran a column endorsing the move; and Politico noted unnamed “GOP aides and lawmakers” who like the idea.
Dan Holler, the communications director for Heritage Action, said last Wednesday that he suspects “we’ll hear a lot” about the move.
That hasn’t happened quite yet, but the issue certainly seems to be percolating. The Washington Post reported this morning:
Late Tuesday, Rep. Paul C. Broun (R-Ga.) called for Boehner to not invite Obama to deliver the State of the Union address next year. […]On the State of the Union, [Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.)] added: “In the spirit of George Washington, he could send it to us in writing. It’d save some time.”
The far-right Washington Times ran an op-ed on this today from a Republican operative. The headline read, “Cancel Congress’s role in the State of the Union address.”
Here is a modest proposal: The Speaker of the House should declare a state of Constitutional emergency in which the President’s specific unlawful actions … have cumulatively provoked the legislative branch into a bold but measured legislative response. That response will be to cancel – for 2015 – the traditional end-of-January joint session of Congress to which the President is normally invited to deliver his annual State of the Union Address.
Well, at least it’s a “modest” and “measured” approach, right?
Proponents of this idea tend to note that Congress isn’t required to welcome a sitting president onto the House floor to deliver an annual national address. That’s true. According to the Constitution, the president “shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union.” For much of American history, this led the White House to deliver a written report to lawmakers.
But with the advent of radio and television, nearly every president since Woodrow Wilson has taken advantage of the national platform a State of the Union address provides.
And now there’s a push to deny President Obama that opportunity in early 2015, all because conservatives are unhappy about the administration governing on immigration policy.
I continue to believe Republican leaders won’t go this far. In fact, if they did, the backlash would probably be pretty brutal – imagine the message it would send to the nation and the world if a far-right Republican Party, for the first time in American history, refused to allow the first African-American president to deliver a State of the Union address from the House floor, all as part of an extended tantrum over immigration.
In 1999, a Republican Congress welcomed President Clinton to deliver a SOTU even after he’d literally been impeached, despite the fact that the GOP-led Senate was still weighing whether to remove the sitting president from office. They let Clinton speak a month after impeachment, but they’ll block Obama? Please.
But it’s worth watching this anyway because the right will expect something to satiate their apoplexy. GOP leaders don’t want impeachment or a shutdown, and many of the related alternative tactics are impractical, ineffective, or both. With this in mind, the more conservatives demand some kind of presidential punishment, the more the anti-SOTU push will seem more appealing.
Heritage Action expects “we’ll hear a lot” about the idea going forward, and for a change, I suspect the group is correct about this.