5 Things You Didn’t Know About the State of the Union Address
President Obama will make his sixth State of the Union Address tomorrow night at 9 p.m. Here’s five things you probably didn’t know about the address:
1) It doesn’t have to be a speech
Can Obama bring up Jay-Z to rap his SOTU? No, but that would be amazing. Technically, the Constitution says the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” George Washington and John Adams chose to do it in person. But Thomas Jefferson thought it resembled a British monarch giving orders to Parliament, so he checked in with Congress through a written report. Woodrow Wilson brought back the speech side of the SOTU in 1913 and it’s basically stuck since then.
2) Bill Clinton holds the record for longest speech
Blame on his Southern drawl but Bill holds the record with 1 hour, 14 minutes, 51 seconds. But lots of other presidents have him beat on word count.
3) It’s “from time to time”, not annual
The president really doesn’t have to give the State of the Union at all. What would you decide “from time to time” means? Bush, Clinton, Bush and Reagan all skipped one speech each when they were on their way out.
4) Someone gets the night off
One person from Congress is given the night off with a huge increase in protection in case something horrible happens that wipes out everyone in attendance. That remaining person would be the one running the country after a catastrophic event. Clinton Transportation Secretary Federico Pena sat things out in 1995 and said it’s best not to think too hard about why you’ve got the night off. “The thought goes through your mind, even for a tenth of a second, and you think, ‘Who knows?’,” Pena said. “But then you say, ‘Don’t be silly. This is just a precaution.’”
5) Ronald Reagan started the shout-outs
In 1982, Ronald Reagan started the whole shout-out to someone in the balcony thing. He paid tribute to Lenny Skutnik, the federal worker who dove into the freezing waters of the Potomac River to rescue an Air Florida crash victim. Last year Obama shouted-out the parents of a Chicago girl killed by gunfire, a New York City nurse who cared for newborns during Hurricane Sandy, a 102-year-woman in Florida who waited six hours to vote during the 2012 elections, and a Wisconsin policeman who was the first to respond to a mass shooting at a Sikh temple.