Democrats Fear Biden Bumbling State of The Union Address
President Joe Biden has not delivered an address to a joint session of Congress yet. Traditionally, the annual address — known as the “State of the Union” in every year of a presidency except the first — happens in the first two months of the year.
Occasionally, presidents will deliver written reports, or radio addresses, rather than (or in addition to) the speech to the House and the Senate that Americans have come to expect. But rarely do they happen after February.
The Constitution does not require that the president address Congress, only that he provide a report. Article II, Section 3 provides: “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.”
From Thomas Jefferson through William Taft, presidents gave written reports; speeches resumed with President Woodrow Wilson in 1913.
Thus far, we have heard nothing from the Biden White House about what Biden plans to do.
At a press briefing on Feb. 23, Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked if there had been “conversations about a joint address to Congress,” and if he would be willing to deliver an address “virtually.”
Psaki’s response: “[H]e’s clearly willing to hold events virtually … And we’re certainly open to a range of formats. I don’t have any update on a date or a timeline for joint address.”
It was an odd response for a White House that had dozens of executive orders ready for Biden’s signature on Day One. Surely, even with COVID, they had considered a virtual address? Or the basic obligation of a written report?
Perhaps the delay is due to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who considers herself equal in rank, if not superior, to the President of the United States. She has not extended Biden an invitation to speak.
“We won’t be doing any of that until we pass our COVID bill. That’s the first order of business,” she told Capitol Hill reporters on Feb. 11.
She has tried such tactics before.
In 2019, after inviting then-President Donald Trump to give the State of the Union, she delayed the address because of a government shutdown over a budget impasse relating to the border wall. She only renewed the invitation once President Trump caved and agreed to a temporary deal to open the government.
If Pelosi is allowed to block the president from addressing Congress — even a president from her own party — it would mark a shift in the delicate balance of power between the three branches of government.
The executive has expanded its power in recent decades, and critics (including myself) have called for Congress to be more assertive.
But there are a few things for which the president is solely responsible, and the State of the Union is one of them.
Biden’s delay is troubling for reasons other than the separation of powers. It also reinforces suspicions that he is not actually in charge of his own administration.
His Inaugural Address was about “unity,” but said nothing about policy. When Psaki has been asked about what the president thinks about a particular issue, she often answers that she has not spoken to him, or to the “team.” There is a sense the country is being governed by a committee or politburo.
When there’s a leader, things get done. There is no leader. No leader, no speech.
Whether Biden delivers an address or not, he must still discharge his constitutional obligations. There is really no excuse for a report that is not delivered by the end of February.
Before Roosevelt, presidents typically spoke at year’s end, rather than at the beginning. Is that how long we will have to wait for Biden to set an agenda?
Or is there some reason he is unwilling to face the American people?