February 28 2017
Quote of the Day:
He shall 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.
--Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution
Everybody will be analyzing Donald Trump's first State of the Union address tomorrow (although this is technically an address to the joint Houses of Congress, not a full-fledged SOTU), but we should also be crossing out fingers all day that relative civility will hold up in the House chamber tonight. The operative word is relative.
The setting for the speech is always raucous, and quite often individual Members push beyond the limits of civility. Democracy is messy, after all. But tonight poses a special challenge: Democrats have wedged themselves into a particularly hostile form of unconditional resistance.
Could clapping at the wrong time lead to a primary challenge?
The selection of guests is always used to send a message. The battling guests lists (here is the president's and here is a report on guest lists of Democrats) this year seem to me to reflect more division (mild word for what is happening) than in the past.
Although I belong to the school of thought that says abolish the pomp of the SOTU address and revert to a presidential letter to Congress (it was good enough for Thomas Jefferson and the majority of presidents before Woodrow Wilson), I admit to being on tenterhooks about tonight.
The president, as the cliche goes, has lots to accomplish tonight. Republican Rep. Tom Cole from Oklahoma writes on what the GOP hopes to hear in today's New York Times. He writes:
I have no doubt that President Trump will spend much of his speech making the case for three initiatives that are already underway in Congress: the rebuilding of the military, the repeal and replacement of the failing Affordable Care Act and the long overdue reform of the tax code. And he will surely discuss his proposals for something most Americans strongly favor — enhanced border security.
However, President Trump will need to do more than merely wait upon a Republican Congress to produce the legislation he has championed. He must become an active participant in the legislative process.
Cole writes that the president must talk about ObamaCare and tax cuts, adding:
There are other initiatives I hope the president addresses in this speech and those to come. In the opinion of many on both sides of the aisle, President Obama conducted unauthorized and therefore illegal wars in Libya, Syria and other parts of the Middle East. A new effort against the Islamic State requires a new congressional authorization for the use of force. President Trump should ask for it.
Preserving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and putting America on a sound fiscal footing requires the reform of the entitlement system. President Trump should embrace that cause. Ronald Reagan did it with respect to Social Security, and won 49 states in his re-election. And as much as all Americans embrace President Trump’s call for enormous new investments in infrastructure, he owes the country an explanation of how he is going to pay for it. President Dwight D. Eisenhower did just that when he built the Interstate System of highways.
Finally, there is the vexing issue of illegal immigration. President Trump is right to focus first on border security. Previous administrations have promised to do so, yet failed to deliver. And he is correct to demand that those who entered America illegally and committed serious crimes be deported.
(Since immigration is a theme reflected in the aforementioned guests lists, discussion of the issue could be particularly fraught tonight.)
Carl Cannon of Real Clear Politics hopes that the president will move past bragging about his electoral victory and offer some grace notes. Nope, says Michael Goodwin, tonight's SOTU will be wild. He has some advice: Buckle up, America.
We'll be listening to the president, but we'll also be nervously riveted as cameras scan the chamber. How wild will tonight be?
The address is two days after the Oscars--and it bids to be just as much of a spectacle. A presidential address should inspire sobriety, not morbid curiosity.
That is one reason to dispense with this pageantry and have the president meet his constitutional obligations to report on the state of the nation with a letter to Congress.
. . .