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Can Congress Grant Us A ‘Pardon’ from the State of the Union?

RANCHO SANTA FE, Calif. — As those of you who are familiar with my work already know, I examine our government from an unusual perspective; one that assumes that it must follow the Constitution. Accordingly, I respect proposed solutions that adhere to that premise while forcing us into the uncomfortable realm of hosting “a civil assessment” of their merit. In that regard, I offer the suggestion of Scot Faulkner to bypass this year’s State of the Union Address.

For purposes of full disclosure, Scot is a dear personal friend with an extraordinary background in government. He worked in the Reagan administration and served in executive positions in the FAA, GSA and Peace Corps. He also was the first Chief Administrative Officer of the United States House of Representatives. In that capacity, he created a model of operations that has been adopted by 44 national parliaments and named as one of the Top 100 Innovations in American Government by the Ford Foundation and Harvard University.

Bottom line: When Scot Faulkner speaks, we all should listen.

While Scot’s political compass generally points “due Conservative,” his suggestion to abandon this year’s State of the Union Address also provides “direction” from a nonpartisan perspective.

In an article he recently published (Invitation Only), Scot correctly states that Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution only requires the President to ‘from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union.’” It is not an address that is required to be given every year.

He also highlights: There is also no requirement that Congress grant the President the use of their Chamber for this ritualized infomercial.” The president must be invited to present to the joint Chambers, which requires a Concurrent Resolution proposed and voted on by the House.

There is ... no requirement that Congress grant the President the use of their Chamber for this ritualized infomercial.
Scot Faulkner
I find Scot’s characterization of the State of the Union Address to be compelling. It has become little more than a “ritualized infomercial.”

The White House has already announced that the president will begin touring the country in the coming weeks to share his agenda; the same one he will be sharing during his SOTU, and the same one he will be reiterating as he tours the country in the weeks that follow after the address.

The president’s SOTU will be personal and partisan as opposed to being focused on “We the People.” It will provide meaningless platitudes concerning our progress, celebrate successes as if they were unilaterally achieved on a partisan basis, and not-so-subtly denigrate the opposing Party.

This isn’t particularly unique to this president. It simply has become a tradition regardless of which party has held the White House. “We the People” deserve better.

While the cited article is focused on re-establishing Republican power on the Hill, the premise behind Mr. Faulkner’s suggestion can have a far greater impact. As he asserts, if Congress were to choose not to invite the president to deliver a State of the Union Address, it might “realign the balance between the Legislative and Executive Branches” and perhaps even encourage President Obama to return to his senatorial days when he denounced the use of executive orders and memoranda.

Recent administrations have aggressively expanded the powers of the Executive Branch well beyond anything that was reasonably contemplated by the Constitution. Democrats decried the practice during the Bush years just as Republican’s have denounced it during President Obama’s two terms.

Interestingly, the only shared phrase in every federal Oath of Office requires a commitment to “defend the Constitution of the United States.” What if we were to hold our elected officials to their word… at least this one time? What if we were to accentuate the separation of powers between the three branches of government that the Framers intended?

We might anticipate several consequences to arise from a refusal to invite the president to conduct what has become an annual ceremony marred by its precipitous decline in audience and relevant content.

First: the minority party would try to capitalize on the “snub” to raise money and fan political emotions. We would be told that the majority party is demonstrating its contempt for the president and our nation and that it must be thrown out of office in 2016 (please send money).

Please note: It does not matter which party holds the White House versus which is the majority in Congress. Either party would use the anger and fear they could create among their constituents to extort money and votes.

Second: We would be told that this is just a callous attempt by the majority to suppress the minority’s voice and to deny the American people the right to hear from their president.

This is absurd on several levels. The party arguing “suppression” is the same party that exercised the “nuclear option” on November 21, 2013, in the Senate to more directly and consistently subdue the voice of the minority (when it wasn’t theirs).

Additionally, the president can articulate his agenda (as he will be doing both before and after the SOTU) without ever going through the pomp and circumstance of doing so in front of the combined chambers with the Joint Chiefs and Supreme Court justices in tow. We will simply be spared what has become a political version of reality television including the president’s perfunctory acknowledgment of “guests” seated next to the First Lady, about whom he pretends to care; a practice that is as uncomfortable as watching New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) in the owner’s box at a football game.

Third: We would be told that this is an unprecedented affront to the president, and a few intellectually-challenged sycophants would almost assuredly claim it to be irrefutable proof of racism on the part of all Republicans.

The latter exhortation could be combined with the current hoopla over House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) that is trying to apply the idiocy of one individual to his party’s entire membership. Given that neither party has a monopoly on stupidity, it is a shame that U.S. Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) is not still alive to deliver the argument on behalf of his party.

Correspondingly, Mr. Faulkner provides a history lesson for those who think that it would be “unprecedented” not to host a State of the Union Address:

“President George Washington delivered the first State of the Union speech in person before a Joint Session of Congress on January 8, 1790. Since then, there have been 223 opportunities for Presidents to deliver their report. Presidents have delivered their report as a speech before a Joint Session of Congress only 98 times (44%). The other 125 times were through written communication.

 

“George Washington and John Adams delivered their State of the Union reports as speeches, but Thomas Jefferson was more comfortable with the written word. For 113 years, no other President delivered a State of the Union speech until Democrat Woodrow Wilson on December 2, 1913. President Warren Harding continued this new practice as did Calvin Coolidge, once.

 

“For ten years, Congress did not have to arrange a Joint Session for the State of the Union Address. Then, Democrat Franklin Roosevelt asked for the forum in 1934. In 1946, President Harry Truman opted out of a formal speech because, during the previous nine months, he had spoken to five Joint Sessions of Congress relating to the end of World War II. In 1956, President Eisenhower opted out of the speech because he was still recovering from his September 24, 1955 heart attack.

 

“No one really missed the Presidential vanity hour. Twenty-six Presidents, including two of America’s greatest Presidential orators, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, choose not to speak to the Congress. Congress still operated. Legislative business continued.”

Thank you, Mr. Faulkner, for putting things in perspective.

Will Congress exercise the novel approach that Scot has suggested? No. However if it did, it just might change the character of the affair.

It might remind this and future presidents that their power is limited and that their focus should be on serving the best interests of the people rather than the best interests of their particular party. It might make the State of the Union Address regain its importance rather than allowing it to remain the shallow celebration of personal glorification and political aggrandizement it has become.

If that were to happen, we might once again witness the emergence of a United States of America as opposed to a divided one. Think about it.

 

TJ O’Hara provides nonpartisan political commentary every other Monday on The Daily Ledger, one of One America News Network’s featured shows on AT&T U-verse and VerizonFiOS channels at 11:00 PM Pacific with rebroadcasts the next day at 6:00 and 10:00 AM Eastern / 7:00 AM Pacific.

Photo Source: AP

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