“He Shall From Time to Time…” A Short Guide to the State of the Union

Written by Dylan Reed – Coordinator, The Engalitcheff Institute on Comparative Political and Economic Systems

Over 30 million people are expected to tune into President Obama’s State of the Union address this evening. As every news outlet prepares to write about the annual speech, we wanted to join the crowd with our version of top three things to look for tonight.

1. “Mr. Speaker…”
On an evening steeped in tradition, the author’s personal favorite is the formal protocol for entry into the House chamber. As President Obama enters the chamber around 9:00pm this evening, the House Sergeant of Arms will loudly announce to the joint session of Congress and guests: “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States!” This will certainly not make headlines, but it is fun to keep any eye out for this ritual.

2. No/Few New Policy Pronouncements
The Obama White House seems to be breaking with tradition this year, and does not plan to announce new policy proposals in the State of the Union. Presidents have historically used the SOTU to present their agenda for the upcoming year. These proposals typically are tied to the budget, as the President delivers his budget to Congress on February 1st. President Obama and his team have used the last few weeks to announce new policy proposals, such a investing in community college and tax reform. Tonight will most likely reiterate those points, only with millions of Americans as the audience.

3. Seating Arrangement
The State of the Union is a special event as all major individuals in the federal government will be in attendance. Vice President Biden and Speaker Boehner sit behind President Obama for the duration of the speech. Members of Congress will most likely sit by political party, which creates an interesting visual dichotomy when only one party chooses to stand and applaud a part of the speech. Nine individuals, however, do not partake in applause for policy proposals during the speech: the Supreme Court Justices. Designed to be an impartial institution, the SOTU illuminates this principle as Justices customarily do not react to statements about policy.

We hope you enjoy our top three list for the 2015 State of the Union. Get your popcorn ready!

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