On Tuesday, January 30, the House Sergeant at Arms will walk into the chamber of the House of Representatives and announce the arrival of the President of the United States to give his “State of the Union” address, as required under the Constitution. This update hasn’t always been given as a speech. Thomas Jefferson abandoned the practice in favor of a written address to be read by the House Clerk, but Woodrow Wilson revived the practice of in-person delivery in 1913.
The moment is full of imagery, lofty language, and lots of play-by-play commentary, but it does serve a purpose. The President uses this opportunity to lay out his domestic priorities for the year, which will then be reflected in a subsequent official budget request to Congress. The speech can take on a laundry list nature, and interruptions for applause from the President’s party can make them seem like they go on forever. That said, they serve as an important opportunity for a White House to outline its legislative priorities for the upcoming year in an informal and easily digestible fashion.
Plus, they’re a time-honored opportunity for DC politicos to engage in friendly drinking games at bi-partisan viewings.