SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A little-noticed rule would likely prevent the president from delivering a State of the Union address on Jan. 29, despite an invitation from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Before the president can address a joint session of Congress, both the House and Senate have to pass a concurrent resolution setting the date and time of the address. So far, no such resolution has been passed for the 2019 speech.
Still, on Sunday the president tweeted, “Nancy, I am still thinking about the State of the Union speech, there are so many options – including doing it as per your written offer (made during the Shutdown, security is no problem), and my written acceptance. While a contract is a contract, I’ll get back to you soon!”
It is true that on Jan. 3, the day Pelosi was sworn in as speaker, she invited the president to deliver his State of the Union address on Jan. 29. (Jan. 3 was thirteen days into the shutdown.) A few weeks later, citing the shutdown, Pelosi requested that the president delay his speech or deliver it in writing, a practice that was common prior to Woodrow Wilson’s presidency.
Today’s tweet indicates that the president believes that Pelosi’s 3 invitation and his acceptance create some kind of contract or right to deliver the speech on Jan. 29.
According to Donald Ritchie, former Senate Historian, the president cannot address the joint session of Congress unless both the House and Senate endorse a concurrent resolution. In other words, Pelosi’s Jan. 3 invitation is not adequate to permit the president to deliver the State of the Union speech.
There’s a long history of Congress being wary that the president might try to dominate the legislature by repeatedly showing up to give speeches, so the rules about when the president can come and speak are fairly strict.
For example, in June 1986, when President Ronald Reagan requested permission to address the House of Representatives on a particular bill, House Speaker Tip O’Neil denied the request “consistent with the doctrine of separation of powers and the precedents of the House.”
Instead, O’Neil directed Reagan to get approval of both the House and Senate to address a joint session of Congress; in other words, set up a State of the Union address.
If President Trump does not get permission to deliver a State of the Union address, could he speak somewhere else in the Capitol? Perhaps. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has said the Senate might host.
But a speech at another location would lack the pomp and audience of the official address in the chamber of the House of Representatives. The House was chosen as the site for the State of the Union addresses because it is large and can hold all members of the House and Senate, Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet Members and guests.
Even a speech in the Senate chamber would be more limited.
Still, at this rate, even if all parties agreed to a Jan. 29 State of the Union address in the House chamber, it may not be possible. Preparation for such a large event takes months and between the shutdown and uncertainty surrounding the date of the speech, a last minute decision to the original date could be unworkable.