Would Congress Really Refuse To Invite Obama To Give The State Of The Union?

Some on the right are suggesting that Congress retaliate against the President's executive action on immigration by refusing to invite him to give the State Of The Union Address.

sotu-14-02

In an article about the Tea Party’s efforts to coalesce around a response to the President’s executive action on immigration, National Review editor Rich Lowry suggests that Republicans in Congress respond to the President’s alleged end run around Congress by refusing to invite the President to give the State of the Union Address in January:

“Yes, there’s a risk to overreacting, but there’s a risk to underreacting as well,” said Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review. “And I fear that’s the way the congressional leadership is leaning.”

Mr. Lowry suggested one way Congress could react. “If I were John Boehner,” he said, referring to the House speaker, “I’d say to the president: ‘Send us your State of the Union in writing. You’re not welcome in our chamber.’ “

The idea appears to have originated in a piece at Brietbart News, Politico reports that this non-invitation is among the options that GOP staffers are considering as a response to the President’s action, and one conservative blogger at least thinks its a great idea:

The Constitution simply requires that “He 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.” Nothing requires that he do so in person. The modern in person State of The Union dates back to Woodrow Wilson but Truman, Eisenhower and Nixon all gave written reports as was the custom from Thomas Jefferson to Wilson.

And Presidents don’t simply show up whenever they please to address the Congress, they must be formally invited. That’s where Boehner and McConnell can strike a blow for the legislature…simply don’t invite him.

Yesterday, Boehner said, “The president had said before that he’s not king and he’s not an emperor,” Boehner says. “But he’s sure acting like one.”

Why would the Speaker invite such a man to address “the people’s house”? All Obama would do would use the time to lecture members of a co-equal branch on what they must do and what he deems acceptable work product for them. Members of the United States Congress are under no obligation to sit mutely while the President brow beats them.

Obama has said he doesn’t feel compelled to listen to the voters who showed up to the polls a little over two weeks ago. The Representatives elected by those people should make it clear they are simply acting in kind, they will not listen to him.

Yes the media will be apoplectic about this. Good, that’s the point. This is a serious moment in our nation’s history. I’ve not seen a single Republican, even ones who strongly support legislative amnesty, support the President on this. The outrage caused by what is an extreme step will help to focus the nation on the threat to our constitutional order.

As far as the law goes, there’s nothing per se wrong about the position that some on the right are taking here. The Constitution does not require that a State of the Union Address be given in person, and Congress has the final say over who does and does not get to speak in front of it, even if the person in question is the President of the United States. This is why, each year, Congress sends an invitation to the President to deliver a State of the Union Address, for example. While this has largely been a pro forma move on Congress’s part in the century or so since it became tradition for President’s to deliver an address rather than send a written message, as had been the tradition from President Jefferson onward, it is still technically necessary for Congress to invite the President. So, yes, if Congress doesn’t invite the President then he would not be able to give a speech before Congress. The logic of this, presumably, would be that since the President has “dissed” Congress by making an end run when it comes to immigration policy, then there is no reason for Congress to honor the President by inviting him to speak before them.

While this may sound like something that will mollify a Tea Party that seems to exist solely on fumes of Obama Derangement Syndrome these days, though, if Republicans actually went forward with this it would clearly wind up being a political disaster for them. For better or worse, the headlines would be overwhelmingly negative and the focus would shift from the President taking unilateral action on immigration to Congress essentially throwing the President out of the well of the House of Representatives in a fit of pique. It would, in the end, look as childish and stupid as the various shutdown and showdown schemes that we have seen over the past several years. This is why Rich Lowry’s fellow National Review editor Ramesh Ponnuru is correct to shoot the idea down:

It wouldn’t raise the political cost to Obama or the Democrats for having rewritten immigration law. It would make Republicans look petty and unreasonable, unwilling even to listen to the president. (Make that “to the black president.” You can write the Maureen Dowd column in your head: “Boehner said his kind wasn’t welcome here . . .”) It would be great to return to the old tradition of written State of the Union reports, but this isn’t the way to do it.

Ponnuru is right, of course. I’ve written several times here at OTB about the reasons why the mostly idiotic pageantry of the televised State Of The Union Address ought to be ended, see here, here, and here for just a few examples of that, but this would be an incredibly stupid political move on the part of Republicans. In the end, I can’t possibly think of a single way that it could be spun positively for them in the media even leaving aside what I would suggest are the overblown fears that it would be turned into a racial matter. It’s simply disrespectful at this point. For better or worse, and I would suggest mostly for the worse, the State of the Union Address has become an expected tradition in American politics. If it is going to be ended someday, it will be by mutual agreement, or more likely by a President who decides it is isn’t necessary, which admittedly isn’t likely to happen. Using the Congressional invitation as a weapon in the manner that some conservatives are suggesting will only make Congress look bad.

In reality, I cannot seriously believe that this is a strategy that is actively being considered by the leadership in the House and the Senate. Say whatever you might about Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader-Elect McConnell, but they are both politically savvy enough to know that something like this would be an utter political disaster for the Republican Party, especially coming at the beginning of the 114th Congress when they might actually hope to accomplish something. Inevitably, the American people would side with the President over this, and Republicans would end up looking badly. All that being said, the idea that such a nutty idea is being seriously proposed by seemingly serious people should give you an idea of the degree of antipathy that exists between left and right today, and provide a preview of just what might be coming between now and 2017. It’s not likely to be pretty.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Borders and Immigration, Congress, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. James Pearce says:

    In reality, I cannot seriously believe that this is a strategy that is actively being considered by the leadership in the House and the Senate.

    Yeah, I’m not willing to give them that much credit….

    The right in general and, Republican politicians in particular, are on a 15 year drought when it comes to “good ideas.” This is the best they can come up with.

    And really….no SOTU? Awesome! I bet it’s “strong” anyway.

  2. Anonne says:

    “It would clearly wind up being a political disaster for them”

    Please. It would be .00002 on the Richter scale. If those clowns could get elected and take more seats after the horrendous headlines about real issues, the one or two days of the news cycle is nothing and doesn’t hinder their electoral chances any further. It will be long forgotten by the time anything that matters is discussed.

    Besides, being petty and small is their stock in trade lately, they’re not afraid of that so long as it pisses off liberals.

  3. Davebo says:

    It’s simply disrespectful at this point.

    Perhaps they should just go ahead and invite him and then have 60 or so GOP congressmen take turns yelling “You Lie!” during the speech.

    It’s been disrespectful since day one.

  4. Moosebreath says:

    “While this may sound like something that will mollify further encourage a Tea Party that seems to exist solely on fumes of Obama Derangement Syndrome these days…”

    FTFY.

  5. Scott says:

    By skipping the State of the Union, we would be skipping the Republican reply to the SOTU which always seems to have some amusement value. Usually by the selected deliverer.

  6. stonetools says:

    I’m hoping they overreach and do it, but God doesn’t love liberals that much. I think cooler heads will prevail, and we will see more empty pageantry at the end of January. We might see a “You lie!!” and “Not True!!” or two, though.

  7. gVOR08 says:

    Using the Congressional invitation as a weapon … will only make Congress look bad.

    Yeah, their approval rating might drop to like 13%. Look at how the shutdown hurt them in the mid-terms.

  8. superdestroyer says:

    @Davebo:

    If you look at the proposals on immigration, President Obama did lie about illegal immigrants access to healthcare. What is amazing is that Democrats are already writing that any promise made to Republicans on immigration will be ignored in the future when the Democrats regain control of the House

  9. al-Ameda says:

    Simply, the GOP are the cockroaches of American Politics – they’re indestructible, they’re close to bottoming out, and they’ve been rewarded for it – low-value, low-information voters just propelled them into control of the Senate too.

    There are no consequences to GOP malevolence – they shutdown the federal government twice in 5 years, tried to leverage their demands against a default on federal securities, and engaged in repeated House investigations of Benghazi!, all to no discernible negative consequences.

    Not invite the President to give the State of The Union Address? It would not be the least bit surprising. Republicans are the anti-government, and they can go a lot lower than this too. Perhaps they could use a Republican SOTU address to lay out a timetable for their impeachment of the president?

  10. anjin-san says:

    Sure they would. In spite of two elections to the Presidency, the black guy has never been legitimate in their eyes.

    It really is that simple.

  11. JKB says:

    I say invite Obama, who as is his nature, will not be able to behave as a proper guest and will insult the Congress as he’s done in the past, or insult their honored guests as he did with the Justices. Then, there is proper reason not to invite him in 2016.

    And, no doubt, Obama’s speech will be presented as a list of edicts that the Congress should immediately throw out since the Congress doesn’t take their direction from the Executive.

    And there is no reason the SOTU has to be verbal. The Constitution actually implies it is to be written.

  12. Barry says:

    Doug, the trick is that the GOP has been playing destrutive nihilistic games for several years now, and profiting.

  13. Barry says:

    @JKB: “I say invite Obama, who as is his nature, will not be able to behave as a proper guest and will insult the Congress as he’s done in the past, or insult their honored guests as he did with the Justices. ”

    Well, no, but thanks for lying playing! Please pick up your year’s supply of Turtle Wax(c)
    on your way out!

  14. C. Clavin says:

    @JKB:
    How, exactly, did Obama insult Congress and the Justices?
    Is telling the truth now an insult just because you don’t like the truth?

  15. Neil Hudelson says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Well, he showed up. And he’s still black. So…

  16. humanoid.panda says:

    @superdestroyer: “Cites omitted”

  17. humanoid.panda says:

    @superdestroyer: And dude, if you actually read liberal commentary, you would know it is focused on the (mistaken) belief that we will never have a majority in the House again due to gerrymandering. Self-confidence and belief in the strategic genius of our leaders is not something liberals do, except in your imagination.

  18. Tyrell says:

    I have not watched a state of the union speech in years, probably not since Carter. These have generally been way too long, too many interruptions for all the phony applause. Clinton’s was too long. They talk, but don’t say much of anything. I think that this thing is now out of date, much the same as the 6:30 pm news, newspapers, phone booths, vcr’s, and land line phones.
    I have no problem if the big 3 networks dropped it completely.

  19. Guarneri says:

    Everyone who disagrees with you guys still a stupid racist?? Good. Carry on.

    OTB must be so,proud.

  20. wr says:

    Maybe the best course of action would be for the Congress to invite Obama to speak, but as soon as he steps up, they can all start chanting “You’re not the boss of me!” And then they can hold their breath until they all turn blue. It’s the kind of mature, adult response we expect from the Tea Party.

  21. Deserttrek says:

    i stopped watching when bush was in office and have never watched an obama speech nor will I.

  22. superdestroyer says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    I hope The Atlantic is a progressive enough of a source.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/11/the-next-amnesty-is-coming/383226/

    with the pull quote:

    Obama’s disavowal of social benefits for the newly legalized will not long remain Democratic Party policy.

  23. C. Clavin says:

    @Guarneri:
    I would suggest a reading course that focuses on comprehension.
    That way you may one day soon be able to contribute something related to the on-going discussion.

  24. superdestroyer says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    The Democrats could get back to having a majority in the House as soon as 2022. All the Democrats have to be willing to do is throw the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus under the bus.

  25. humanoid.panda says:

    @superdestroyer: So, your proof that a)Obama is lying and B) democrats are about to renege on promises is a prediction by a David Frum, a republican who is an ardent opponent of immigration reform that while Obama is not lying, the next Democratic President will do what he refuses to do?

    That is quite embarrassing even by your low standards.

  26. humanoid.panda says:

    @superdestroyer: How does “having to throw the Hispanic and Black caucuses theory to regain power” squares with your prediction of the death of the White middle class as a political force in this country?

    I mean, seriously, if the Democrats’ path to majority status lies in winning White votes by pissing off Hispanics and Blacks, why are you predicting the end of America as we know it?

  27. Paludicola says:

    I’m ambivalent about this. I loathe the inane contemporary State of the Union Ritual, consider the provision that allows it probably obsolete and do find it unpleasantly monarchical in character. (The Presidency has that trait generally) However, repudiating the President like this would be just stupid and petty. I would far prefer and be genuinely impressed if Congress would assert its prerogatives not with a meaningless, spiteful gesture, but by demanding that the President seek its consent to go back to battle in the Middle East, call him to task about his shielding of the CIA or countermand his action on immigration by passing their own plan into law. Those could be meaningful, worthwhile legislative accomplishments. Of course, what incentive have they to actually do anything like that?

  28. superdestroyer says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    If the Democrats were willing to break up the CBC and CHC districts, they would win more majority white districts and be more competitive. Chaka Fatah gets over 80% of the vote in his district. Break that district up and those automatic Democratic Party voter would still vote for Democrats but those votes would be in elections in competitive districts.

    There is also the theory that breaking up the CHC/CBC districts would cause minority politicians to moderate their views and become more competitive in state wide races.

  29. humanoid.panda says:

    @superdestroyer: So in other words, in order to win the House, the Democrats need to cater to White voters. Again, this pretty much disproves your entire theory of American politics,no?

    Also, I gather you already conceded my point that Obama is not lying about illegal immigrants and the ACA?

  30. al-Ameda says:

    @Guarneri:

    Everyone who disagrees with you guys still a stupid racist?? Good. Carry on.
    OTB must be so,proud.

    Why are conservatives obsessed with race?

  31. Kylopod says:

    @Guarneri:

    Everyone who disagrees with you guys still a stupid racist?? Good. Carry on.

    Guarneri may be one of the dumbest trolls here, but this comment reveals a mindset that’s pervasive on the right–the idea that liberals are constantly calling anyone who disagrees with Obama a racist.

    The funny thing is, I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered a single liberal, anywhere–let alone liberals in general–who goes around doing this. In fact, most liberals disagree with Obama on a whole host of issues–Afghanistan, single-payer health-care, pot legalization, deficit reduction, offshore drilling, and (until 2012) same-sex marriage.

    What always prompts this claim is an incident where someone says or does something against Obama that is at best obnoxious and inflammatory. Then some liberals characterize it as racist. That’s when the canard pops out–“this proves that liberals believe anyone who criticizes the President is racist.”

    I should mention here that there is a reasonable area for debate over what sorts of comments or actions against the first black president may or may not have a racial motivation.

    What is not debatable, however, is that just because someone characterizes one particular thing against Obama (say, excluding him from giving his SOTU in person) as racist, that does not imply that the person thinks all criticisms of Obama are racist. It could not possibly imply such a thing, since no such person exists, and anyone who pays attention realizes that.

  32. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @superdestroyer:

    What is amazing is that Democrats are already writing that any promise made to Republicans on immigration will be ignored in the future when the Democrats regain control of the House.

    Funny thing, don’t see that detail in Frum’s article–the point being not that Democrats may decide to go back on their word, but that they are already saying that they will in writing. Quite a difference.

    Maybe you should have linked to the article in the Superdestroyerville Daily Clarion Call.

  33. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @humanoid.panda: Wow! You got a lot more out of that word salad than I did (and even after reading what you concluded, I still don’t give it credit for making as much sense as you do–I’m petty that way).

  34. Guarneri says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Powerful and moving commentary there.

  35. Guarneri says:

    @al-Ameda: @Kylopod:

    Gentlemen, meet Mr Reynolds. MR Reynolds, meet these two dishonest nimrods.

  36. superdestroyer says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    No. Here is a cite from the Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/14/youre-already-paying-for-some-undocumented-immigrants-health-care/

    And please do not call the Washington Post a right wing newspaper. They have not endorsed a Republicans in decades.

  37. superdestroyer says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    It is a matter of time frames. The Democrats will eventually be the dominant party regardless of whites (See California). However, if the Democrats wanted to speed up the process and become dominate in ten years, the first step would be to break up the majority-minority districts and spread the automatic Democratic Party voters around more Congressional districts. I used to believe that any district that is 40% non-white would be a lock for the Democrats. The number may be a little lower now.

    However, the brain trust of the Democratic Party knows that every demographic trends in the U.S. is in their favor and that brain trust seems content to bide their time until the U.S. becomes a one party state rather than throw a few fellow Democrats under the bus and become dominant more quickly.

  38. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @superdestroyer: Hey dumbsh!t, we have been paying for the healthcare of every uninsured illegal who walks into an emergency room ever since Ronald Reagan made it the law of the land. Why do you complain now?

  39. superdestroyer says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    When progressives have nothing worth saying, they resort to profanity. If we have been paying for it since the first amnesty, then you are claiming that President Obama knowingly went in front of Congress and lied. President Obama had to know that the government was paying for it then and had to know that expanding medicaid would make more illegal aliens eligible for taxpayer subsidized healthcare.

    The only question for the future is how much more are Americans going to have to pay and who will end up the losers in the coming comprehensive immigration reform.

  40. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @superdestroyer: And totally ignoring what I said is what you do every time somebody points out your complete ignorance on any particular subject.

  41. C. Clavin says:

    @superdestroyer:
    So what you are saying is…we should NOT under any circumstances provide care to people unless they have proof of payment….and this includes the ER.
    I’ve been waiting for Republicans to admit that is how they want health care to work. Romney did say the same thing during the last election but it did not get the play it deserved. Thanks for your honesty.
    It’s important to note that the Republican party is the only group in any Democracy in the free world that believes people should be denied health care.

  42. Mu says:

    I just hope if they don’t invite him he’ll send the written report in comic sans, fitting for the little children throwing a tantrum.

  43. humanoid.panda says:

    @superdestroyer: The Post is not a newspaper, but the story does not prove that Obama “lied”. The program it discusses, is an outgrowth of EMTALA, signed by Reagan, peace be unto him. It stipulates that since the law stipulates that hospitals have to accept everyone in their ERs, they will be compensated by the federal government for people who can’t pay. Under the ACA, this program was actually cut, rather harshly, as it reduces the pool of uninsured patients. In case you read the story, understand the details, and think that EMTALA should be rolled back and people should die in hospital parking lots, good luck with that. If all you did was to read the headline, I suggest you stop flinging random crap- people will catch you doing that.

  44. humanoid.panda says:

    @superdestroyer:

    President Obama had to know that the government was paying for it then and had to know that expanding medicaid would make more illegal aliens eligible for taxpayer subsidized healthcare.

    Bzzztttt.!
    You’re wrong. Expanding Medicaid has nothing to do with paying for “illegal aliens”- we are talking about totally different pots of money here (in fact, as I said, the ACA makes the pot of money to pay for “illegal aliens” smaller, which might be a problem in areas in which they are the most likely uninsured population”

  45. KM says:

    If they don’t issue the invite out of petty spite, Obama could just do an end run. Have a Dem ( or five really) request speaking time on the floor, and set up a webcast loud enough to be heard (visual would be nice but you might not get everything set up in time). Do the State of the Union address from the Oval Office and start it off with “My fellow Americans, Congress is refusing to be civil tonight. However, my Constitutional duty is clear so I am addressing them and you from my office as a sign of respect to that document to those who clearly have none.” Broadcast it on his own – Obama gets a one up, Congress has to listen or cut the feed (petty political suicide) and job done!

  46. KM says:

    @Mu:

    comic sans, fitting for the little children throwing a tantrum.

    IMPACT font, just to be a berk! Oh, and maybe some Papyrus for the quotes? He could have fun with this…..

  47. Tillman says:

    @Kylopod: So, did you miss those threads where several liberal commenters prominently made the case that there’s a strong racial animus at the foundation of the GOP’s opposition to Obama?

  48. Kylopod says:

    @Tillman: That’s not the same as saying that “anyone who disagrees with Obama is a racist.”

  49. Tillman says:

    @Kylopod: It isn’t, true, but it can easily be misconceived as that. Expanding someone’s concise point into a vague generality is pretty common in humanity nowadays.

  50. al-Ameda says:

    @Guarneri:

    Gentlemen, meet Mr Reynolds. MR Reynolds, meet these two dishonest nimrods.

    I find that race-obsessed people like you often resort to juvenile appellations.

  51. sam says:

    Among the many ways Republican members of Congress are contemplating to punish President Obama for his executive actions on immigration is a proposal of elegant simplicity: They would refuse to invite him to the Capitol to give his State of the Union address.

    Yes, that should do the job. And if this doesn’t force Obama to back down from his executive orders, Republican lawmakers can escalate by unfriending him on Facebook and unfollowing him on Twitter. If even this fails, they can take the extreme step of having their Christmas cards from the Obamas returned to sender. Surely, the president then would have no choice but to relent.

    Dana Milbank

  52. Stephen Bloom says:

    @C. Clavin: He directly criticized one of their rulings in his address.

  53. Rick DeMent says:

    @Mu:

    I just hope if they don’t invite him he’ll send the written report in comic sans, fitting for the little children throwing a tantrum.

    Better yet, a graphic novel” reading is more fun with pictures 🙂

  54. An Interested Party says:

    Better yet, a graphic novel” reading is more fun with pictures

    Actually, it would be better still as the Sunday Funnies…a graphic novel might be too complex for them…