Constitution provides that from time-to-time the President of the United States is to provide Congress with his views as to the state of the union. The report is also to inform Congress on any legislative actions he would like them to consider. The Constitution does not say how that is to be accomplished.
George Washington believed it should be in the form of a formal address to the Congress. That tradition was short-lived when America’s third President, Thomas Jefferson, decided that heading up to Capitol Hill was a waste of time. He provided his perspective on the state of the Union in written form. That was how it was done until 1913, when Woodrow Wilson decided to address the Congress. This required that Congress – specifically the Speaker of the House – tender an invitation to the President. That has been the practice since.
It has been one of the high points of the presidential year – becoming more important with the advent of television. The entire American public – indeed the rest of the world – could tune into the speech and hear what the American President thought of the critical issues. It became a direct link between the President and we the people.
Virtually all presidents got high marks for their speeches. Of sure, there were those in opposition who viewed with alarm the very same things the President pointed to with pride. In more recent years, the opposition party was provided an opportunity to rebut. Anyone who believes in transparency and an informed public had to see the speech and the rebuttal as a good thing.
Apparently not House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the act of political petulance, Pelosi announced that she would withdraw the invitation for the President to address the nation from the floor of the people’s chamber. She said that she was concerned about security, but that was a false and flimsy excuse.
Pelosi seemed to have two motives – to deny the President the ability to speak to the people and to vent her anger at Trump for not giving in on the funding for the border protection – the wall. It is not easy to know what Pelosi hoped to achieve, but her pettiness may have reminded many Americans why she has been such an unpopular figure in the Washington establishment.
In the game of political one-upmanship, Pelosi may have given Trump another opportunity to turn the tables. Rather than try to override her childish petulance — not unlike that prepubescent angry refrain “I’m not going to invite you to my birthday party” — Trump should accept Pelosi’s decision (or was it just a threat?) and move forward with plans to address the nation from another location.
The steps or portico of the Capitol Building would be a good location – conjuring up the false image of Martin Luther posting his reforms at the door of the Whittenberg Castle Church. It would be an invitation-only event to which Trump would invite the entire Congress. Sticking with tradition, Trump would also invite the Supreme Court, the military chiefs-of-staff, the Cabinet and special guests.
Pelosi would also be on the invitation list. If she attended, she would be seated in the front row, but not behind Trump, as is the traditional position of honor. Her presence would be a public embarrassment as Trump led off his speech with an explanation for the unusual venue – how the lady of the House had ended a more than 100-year tradition for no good reason. If she did not attend, she would be conspicuous by her absence. In fact, the more Democrat legislators who boycotted the event, the more petulant they would look.
This is just the sort of event that only a Donald Trump could execute with maximum effect – and would very likely bring very high ratings. It would rival Hollywood’s Oscar night in building anticipation of who would be seen, how the event would proceed and how the audience would react. It would sure beat that tired old imagery of the President orating for more than one hour as the Vice President and the Speaker of the House served as stage props – looking like a pair of Toby mugs. Hell, it may even kick off a new tradition.