tv State of the Union History CSPAN February 4, 2019 11:04pm-11:26pm EST
>> the state of the union, first-person owned -- first post on because the government shutdown, will be on tuesday night. live from the house chamber beginning at 9:00 p.m. eastern on c-span, followed by the democratic response by former georgia gubernatorial candidate stacey abrams. the state of the union, live tuesday at 9:00 eastern on c-span, c-span.org, for listen with their free c-span radio app. next, historian emeritus don ritchie speaks with c-span about the traditions and history of the state of the union address. >> when did this address become a traditional annual address? don ritchie: it has a variety of histories. it started back in 1789 with george washington, when he gave
a state of the union message. washington and adams did it personally. then thomas jefferson stopped the practice and started sending of the message. 1915, you finally have woodrow wilson deciding he would come in person to congress. since then, every president has come in person, except for herbert hoover who did not like to speak in public and never had good dealings with congress. every other president has made a up forl out of coming this, and it has gotten bigger with radio and television and the internet, so it's a huge event these days. >> why did thomas jefferson decide to go over his in writing and would he approve of this annual showing? don: i think thomas jefferson would disdain this annual showing. he thought it was much too much like a king going to parliament. it was too fancy. the executive should stay in the executive branch. the legislative branch was separate. jefferson did not like to speak in public. he only gave two speeches as
president and both were his inaugural addresses. he thought it was fine to send a written message to congress and every one of his predecessors in the 19th century and early 20th century followed suit. apparently was a pretty boring affair because the clerk would stand up and read out and drone through this message. members would look through their own copies and drift in and out. there was no drama to it. but wilson wanted to be a prime minister as much as a president and he felt he needed to be in congress personally to lead his forces and he did turn it into a very dramatic event. >> what is it about the evening that jefferson did not approve of? it has been said it is like the speech from the throne? what is it about the optics? don: they always use the british parliament when they would discuss setting up the american constitution, but they usually used it as a bad example. they did not just want to copy
them. the idea that the king would come and march through the chambers and all the members of the house of commons would march over to the house of lords, it was just too regal. jefferson was just a small 'r' republican. he believed a more limited government. he was trying to cut down, essentially, the imperial presidency of george washington and john adams. jefferson also had big majorities in both the senate and the house, so he could get his way without having to go up and give a speech. yes i just did not like public speaking. he set the practice than of sending up the message and the messages that longer and longer and longer. they were really a very long laundry list of what the president would like congress to do in the coming year. the recent speeches because they are delivered orally, have been cut down considerably.
the presidents will send of an augmented message with all the details they did not say in the chamber. >> president trump is delivering this address in what some have described as a time of turmoil. there's a special counsel investigation. the government was shut down for over a month and there is a looming, possible government shutdown again. are there other presidents who have delivered a state of the union in similar circumstances? don: perhaps similarly unusual circumstances to i think the most unusual was 1999. the senate was holding an impeachment trial for the president of the united states. the president chose to come up and give his state of the union message as if nothing was happening. i think it really surprised everyone. they thought he would just send up the message or whatever, but he made it clear he was doing business as usual. it somewhat took the steam out of the impeachment process of the time. i remember that as one of the more stunning and surprising of all the state of the union messages.
there have been some said moments. president reagan had to delay his state of the union for a week because the challenger exploded, the space shuttle. there have been some traumatic moments, right after war has been declared or an assassination. there have certainly been moments that have heightened perhaps in terms of the drama. but every year, a state of the union is a dramatic effect. other than the inauguration it's the only time that all of the branches of the government come together. you've got the supreme court sitting there, the military sitting there, the cabinet sitting there, the senate, the house, the diplomats, spouses and their guests in the gallery. every seat in the press gallery is taken. so, it's a very high drama situation no matter what. >> do the presidents who have delivered the state of the union under unusual circumstances
address what is happening outside of that night? don: it depends. i do not think president clinton made any reference to his impeachment. other presidents will talk about the circumstances of the time and they will use it for dramatic effect. and especially because technically they are the state of the union, is it good or is it bad? if times are hard, presidents will use that to say, we've got to do something, and they will throw down the gauntlet to congress to at least address their issues. maybe not to do it the way they want, but at least to come up with some solution to the situations. >> do low approval ratings impact how and when and if a president will give the state of the union address? truman was at 22% when he delivered his last state of the union address. don: a president's approval ratings go up and down. of boring factor
that works its way in. if you look at the statistics of who listens it's always higher , at the very beginning of a presidency, and especially if the president serves eight years, the audience goes down and down with each one. but it still gets millions of people listening on television, radio, or watching it stream live. people around the world and other countries, of course, are going to be very interested in knowing what this president is going to say because part of the speech does deal with foreign policy. this is a speech where george w. bush talked about the axis of evil, for instance. it has a large international audience as well as a national audience. >> some have compared this speech by the president to the one that benjamin harrison gave in 1891 when the issue was illegal immigration from china. don: yes, a lot of issues from american history are evergreens. they come back. immigration is always an issue. we are a nation of immigrants.
at various times we have been very accepting of immigrants. at other times, we put all sorts of restrictions on immigrants. we also make distinctions between different groups. chinese immigration was a controversial issue in the 1890's. many of the issues the president is going to address are ones his predecessors have talked about. some of which have had temporary solutions, some of which have at solutions that work for a long time but have become old-fashioned, some of which he does not like it wants to replace. but all of these are brand-new issues. there will be a theme and variations. >> let's talk about the traditions of the night. what is happening on the senate side of the u.s. capitol? don: the senate will start out with a dinner that the secretary of the senate will host, senators and the spouses. the tradition holds that the menu will be chicken popeye, which one of the former curators
developed. each one has kept up the menu. the one who try to change the menu got a lot of protest and went back to the wonderful chicken pot pie. after the dinner, they will gather in the senate chamber and they will then march two by two with the vice president leaving -- leading the procession because the vice president is the president of the senate. they will march from the senate chamber to the house chamber. the various times i got to walk in the procession, if you are in the end of the procession, you have to run because it is sort of like crack the whip. the first people are practically in the house chamber by the time the last one leaves the senate chamber. they get there, and then they will take special seats that they will have reserved for the senate. in recent years there has been a tradition to try to break it up so the republicans and democrats walk together and not quite so separate when they get into the chamber. after the shooting of congressman giffords, senator udall suggested that would be a nice tradition to follow.
for the most part, they have done that in recent years. they will be in the chamber then as all the other guests are announced coming in. there will be at least one or two members of the senate who will not be there because each of the branches designate someone to stay home just in case there is an emergency. this is the one time when everyone is gathered in the same room. at least in the 1950's in the nuclear age, there was this sense it was not safe to have everyone in the government at the same place at the same time. there are those in the senate who will not go because they have been too many of these. i remember senator byrd of west virginia tended to not go in his last two years unless he was called upon as president pro tempore of the senate to preside, and he always came to preside. otherwise there were a lot of speeches he just did not want to listen to. >> any similar traditions for
house lawmakers? don: they will also designate someone not to be there. it is in the house chamber. it's their bailiwick. the speaker of the house will be sitting up at the podium. the speaker is sort of in charge. as president trump discovered this time, the speaker makes the decisions. it is the speaker's house, essentially. the house of representatives is run from the top down. the senate is run from the floor up, they say. but clearly, the speaker of the house and the leadership of the house make the decisions. not only will all the members be there, but the spouses will be in the galleries. sometimes key staff members will be there. sometimes generous constituents will be there. each member gets one ticket for the gallery. it's pretty limited in space. there will be lots of gatherings in the various offices. then after the speech, there will be a mad rush to go to the statuary hall where there will be dozens of television cameras
set up and all the members will rush to give their take on what they just saw. there is an old saw in the capital building is the most dangerous place to stand as between a member of congress in a television camera. >> on the night of the speech, can you think of previous speeches were there has been a dynamic between the president of the united states and the speaker of the house sitting right behind him? don: not every president has been an agreement with every speaker. president clinton and speaker gingrich were certainly at odds. that was one of the big government shutdowns, the disagreement between them. there have been numerous occasions where people sitting behind the president sometimes looked a little uncomfortable. or sometimes looked like they were very happy in charge. it just depends. vice presidents usually have to be attentive. if they yawn or look elsewhere
it will be a picture in the newspaper the next day. on the other hand, they do not want to overshadow the president of their party in front of them. their position is a little more difficult than the speaker of the house, who is presiding over the chamber in which the speaker is in charge him >> have the supreme court justices always attended the address? don: not always. they sometimes are there en mass e and sometimes they have stopped coming. a few of them feel it's quite improper to be there because it's essentially a political discussion. they sit there very quietly. they are not supposed to applaud. one made of facial gesture about disagreeing with something and that was immediately criticized. your position is a little dicey. same thing with military officers. i think they often feel quite uncomfortable. they are not standing up and applauding when the members of the president's party are. of course supreme court justices
, tend to be in their 70's and 80's and some of them tend to does off -- doze off during long speeches and that is understandable, but of course you are on camera. >> they also have their dinner before they listen to the president. don: it's a ceremonial event that has a lot of socializing. a lot of members do this. a lot of senators, a lot of representatives. the press gallery, they will be absolutely packed. quite often when you are sitting in the senate or house chamber on a regular day there's only two or three people in the press gallery, but every seat will be taken and people will be standing in the back for the state of the union message. >> who are the other groups that are announced and why are they announced in that way? when did it become important to mark their presence? don: this is traditional. usually the doorkeepers of the house make the announcement. there are different groups. there is the diplomatic corps for instance.
there has always been a gallery, ever since the have been galleries, but the one that has been designated for the diplomatic corps. in addition to the senate and the house and the supreme court and the cabinet and the military officers, you also have the first family always sitting in the front row. in recent years, they have brought special guests. some of whom will be mentioned during the speech. part of the formality is just to let people know what is happening and how close we are getting to the actual date of the actual time the president is going to arrive, but it adds a little bit to the drama and the dignity of the situation. >> some lawmakers are also bringing guests that they believe send a political message. is that new? don: that's relatively new in recent years. the president bringing guests for optical reasons. some members of congress are bringing people that they think will make a statement in
reverse. it usually gets some attention. but that has been the last few years. everything -- politics in general on capitol hill have become much more polarized. when you have a polarized situation, if one side is going to do one thing, the other side is going to counter it another way. it automatically develops that way. it gets ratcheted one step each time. >> what about protests, either silent or yelling out in the middle of the state of the union? don: we are not a parliament. if you have ever sat in parliament around the world, the first thing you notice is members heckle each other across the isle or usually facing each other. there is a lot of noise a lot of , desk pounding. there's a lot of disbelief when another person is speaking. the rules of the senate and the house require members to be much politer. there's got to be decorum. and one of the issues is whether
or not you disagree with the speaker do you make it known at , the time? if you agree, you can applaud and if you disagree, you can sit on your hands. as one member discovered when he shouted out "you lie!," he was censured by the house of representatives the next day because no one considered that an appropriate response. you may dislike with the president is saying, but you would be outraged if the president of your party was speaking and was assaulted like that. i think both parties realized while you can show your enthusiasm and support, you need to be muted in your opposition. >> there are two democrats we know of so far who are not attending as a protest. don: yes, i am sure people can disagree with the president and decide they do not want to sit and listen to them. they can do that if they don't care about the speech one way or another. a lot of members just don't show up for the event.
the difference is if you put out a press release and say i am not therefore particular reason. then you are drawing attention to your disagreements with the president. one of the issues is the state of the union message is when the president outlines what he would like to see done during the next congressional session. every member of congress, to some degree, has to be aware of what he is asking for. they certainly are not going to give him everything he wants. but he is setting the agenda to some degree. tomorrow, you can read the whole thing in the congressional record after it has been said. you don't have to sit through the event and you can stay home and watch it on television if you choose. but they do have to be aware -- and they are aware of what the president said. in the days before there were standing committees of congress, they used to cut these state of the union message apart and essentially treat an ad hoc
committee for each paragraph to deal with the issue the president had risen. now the standing committees of congress will be getting these issues. the bills will be introduced. they have some sense of what the president's priority is. as i say presidents can ask for , a lot. whether congress gives it to them is a different matter. >> don ritchie, thank you. don: my pleasure. >> live tuesday on the c-span networks, the senate judiciary committee hears from judicial nominee who has been nominated to replace brett kavanaugh on the d.c. circuit court. that is attended by pm eastern on c-span. at noon, the house returns for morning speeches and legislative business. at 2:00, our coverage begins at 8:00 p.m.. the senate returns at 10 a clock work on the middle east policy bill and federal land management. at 9:00 p.m., the state of the union, followed at 10:00 by
reaction from members of congress. can i collect 30 a.m. on c-span3, the senate armed services committee hears from the commander of u.s. central command on military operations in syria and afghanistan. president trump: over the last year the world has seen the we always knew that no people on , earth are so fearless or daring or determined as americans. if there is a mountain, we climb it. if there is a frontier, we cross it. if there is a challenge, we tame it. if there's an opportunity, we seize it. let's begin tonight by recognizing that the state of our union is strong because our people are strong. [applause] >> the state of the union,
first-person tone because of the government shutdown will now take place on tuesday night. watch as president trump delivers his state of the new address live in the house chamber beginning at 9:00 p.m. eastern on c-span, followed by the democratic response by former georgia gubernatorial candidate stacey abrams. the state of the union, live tuesday at 9:00 eastern on c-span, c-span.org, or listen with their free c-span radio app. host: on mondays when congress is in session we like to take a look at the week ahead in washington. this week the state of the text -- union takes top billing amid a busy week otherwise in washington. joining us for the discussion, eric wasson is with bloomberg news, and anita kumar with a story up asking whether president trump the disruptor will play nice at the state of the union again. will he? guest: i think he will. :
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