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The latest bit of shutdown theater emerged yesterday as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi informed President Trump that he will not be invited to the House chamber to deliver his state of the union address as long as the government remains in partial shutdown.
Pelosi may have intended her action as a fit of pique, but she has accidentally stumbled onto an excellent idea for restoring some of the republican simplicity lost in the rise of the imperial presidency. Trump should accept her decision and make it permanent. We should return to the practice of delivering the state of the union report by letter, not by a public speech.
President - George - Washington - Congress - State
Every president since George Washington has reported to Congress on the state of the union in some form or another. It is one of the few specific acts that the Constitution requires of the president. But the Constitution says nothing about a speech. Its text requires only that the president “from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” It doesn’t have to be annual, it doesn’t have to be a public speech, and it doesn’t have to involve the pomp and pageantry of the president addressing a joint session of Congress in one of their legislative chambers.
Washington interpreted the Constitution’s language as a take on the British government’s Speech from the Throne and delivered the first state of the union address in person in 1790. He did the same thing the next year, establishing the precedent of the message being delivered annually. For the first 12 years of the republic under presidents Washington and John Adams, that was how it went.
Practice - Difference - Government - Ours
But the practice soon exposed one major difference between the British government and ours....
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