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.
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.