In early 1999, the political environment in Washington, D.C., bordered on surreal. President Clinton had just been impeached. House Speaker Newt Gingrich had just been ousted from his leadership post, forced out by his own members. Gingrich’s apparent successor, Louisiana’s Bob Livingston, was soon after forced to resign in the wake of a sex scandal.
And at the same time, the U.S. Senate was weighing the charges against Clinton, hearing arguments as to whether or not to remove the sitting president from office.
It was against this backdrop that the White House announced in mid-January that it was time for the annual State of the Union address. TV preacher Pat Robertson, an influential figure in Republican politics at the time, gave his GOP allies some stern advice: don’t let Clinton speak. To give the president an august national platform, Robertson said, would allow Clinton to solidify his support and end the impeachment crusade. Congress isn’t required to host the speech, so there was nothing stopping Republicans from denying Clinton’s request.
GOP leaders on Capitol Hill weren’t prepared to go nearly that far. So, Clinton spoke, he pretended like impeachment hadn’t just happened, and Gallup showed the president’s approval rating reaching 69% soon after.
Nearly 16 years later, another Democratic president, also hated by his Republican attackers, is poised to deliver his penultimate State of the Union address. And like Pat Robertson, the idea of denying the president a SOTU invitation is once again on the right’s mind.
“Yes, there’s a risk to overreacting, but there’s a risk to underreacting as well,” said Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review. “And I fear that’s the way the congressional leadership is leaning.”Mr. Lowry suggested one way Congress could react. “If I were John Boehner,” he said, referring to the House speaker, “I’d say to the president: ‘Send us your State of the Union in writing. You’re not welcome in our chamber.’”
Lowry may not dictate GOP decision making the way Limbaugh and Fox News do, but it’s important to note that he isn’t the only one publicly pushing the idea.
Politico reported yesterday that congressional Republicans are weighing a variety of tactics to “address” their disgust over Obama’s immigration policy, and “GOP aides and lawmakers” are considering the idea of “refusing to invite the president to give his State of the Union address.”
Late last week, Breitbart News also ran a piece of its own on the subject: “Congress should indicate to President Obama that his presence is not welcome on Capitol Hill as long as his ‘executive amnesty’ remains in place. The gesture would, no doubt, be perceived as rude, but it is appropriate.”
For the record, I rather doubt Republican leaders will go this far. Indeed, if they seriously pursued the idea, GOP officials would risk a backlash that would help, not hurt, the White House.
That said, don’t be too surprised if this talk grows louder between now and the big speech.