The State of the Union address is tonight. The good news is you’ll probably see President Trump at his best. Last year, in his “joint address to Congress” — the traditional name for the address of a president who’s been in office a short time — I wrote that Trump calmed down, chilled out, and rose to the occasion. Of course, we know how the rest of the year went. The policy is pleasing, but the erratic behavior, fuming over television comments, and general lashing out at everyone demonstrated we shouldn’t read too much into one well-delivered speech on one night.
The bad news is the State of the Union address doesn’t really change very much, according to Gallup. They saw little change in Obama’s numbers most years, and a 2010 review of all of the addresses going back through the Carter years found “across all presidents, the average change in approval has been less than a one percentage-point decline.” Why do Americans watch the State of the Union address? Because it pre-empts most of what they usually watch on a lot of the channels.
You’ve all endured this miserable spectacle at some point in your lives. You know firsthand how insufferable it is. Instead of me having to convince you, the burden should be on you to convince me: Why wouldn’t America be better off with the president submitting a written statement to Congress in lieu of a speech, as presidents did for nearly the entire 19th century?
Lamenting the symbolism of the invited guests, he writes . . .
SOTU stuntcasting via the guestlist is an especially feeble way to pander to key constituencies, prove one’s ideological virtue, medal in the Victim Olympics, and generally mug for the cameras on a night when the news media is entirely focused on the Capitol. It’s another reminder that no one really cares what’s being *said* at the event, only about the opportunity to see and be seen at it. The president gets camera time, the tools who elbow each other out of the way along the aisles to shake his hand get camera time, and the dopes bringing Heroes of the #Resistance as guests get camera time. It’s the polar opposite of what a written SOTU would be — a serious no-bells-or-whistles message, all content.
Meanwhile, Democratic congressman Joe Kennedy is giving the official response, Virginia state delegate Elizabeth Guzman is giving the Spanish-language response, Bernie Sanders will be giving his own response, Maxine Waters will be giving a response on BET, and Donna Edwards will deliver an address on behalf of the Working Families Party.
We can scoff, but this door opened when Michele Bachmann decided she would give “the Tea Party response” to the State of the Union in 2011.
They’re all fools to volunteer, of course. As I noted two years ago, the job of responding to the State of the Union address is cursed, and terrible fates befall just about everyone who does it.
1989: House Speaker Jim Wright gives the response; he resigns later in the year in an ethics scandal.
1996: Bob Dole gives the response, and later that year, loses the presidential race.
1998: Trent Lott gives the response; by 2002, he resigns as Senate majority leader after controversial comments about Strom Thurmond.
2002: Dick Gephardt gives the response; in 2004, he runs for president and flames out in Iowa.
2004: Senate minority leader Tom Daschle gives the response . . . and loses his reelection bid that year.
2007: Newly elected senator Jim Webb gives the response, eventually grows to hate the Senate, and chooses to not run for reelection.
2008: Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius goes on to become Health and Human Services secretary and promptly unveils Healthcare.gov to the world, lets President Obama stand before the country and tout a non-functioning web site.
2009: Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal. People still give him grief about sounding like Kenneth from 30 Rock.
2010: Virginia governor Bob McDonnell — convicted on corruption charges in 2014.
2011: Paul Ryan — obviously, there’s a lot more chapters left in the book of Ryan’s career, but 2012 didn’t go as he hoped.
2013: Marco Rubio — the infamous water-bottle incident.
In fact, I found some some lesser-known examples of this as well.
In 1986, Governor Eugene Gatling gave the response to President Reagan; his reelection bid was impeded by the infamous “unresolved election” of that year.
In 1999, Senator David Palmer of Maryland gave the address, and years later, after a tumultuous career of many long days and constantly being up against the clock, he was assassinated by a vast conspiracy.
In 2000, Senator Robert Kelly gave the response, and later that year, he was turned into a giant mutant jellyfish.
In 2012, Congressman Nicholas Brody gave the response, and within one year, he was executed in Iran.*
The response to the State of the Union address has turned into a political Aztec human-sacrifice altar, where rising stars of the party are given 15 minutes in the national spotlight and then ritually humiliated by fate within a few years.
*Okay, technically, these last four lawmakers only exist in the world of Benson, 24, X-Men, and Homeland.
Release The Memo! Release the Counter-Memo! Release the Kraken! Release Everything!
Look, at this point, I want to see the memo, and the Democrats’ counter-memo, and unless they involve the nuclear codes or something justifiably super-secret, I want to see the source documents, too. Let’s get all of this out into the light, instead of being subject to a seemingly endless campaign of strategic leaking.
That way, a lot of things will probably be clearer and make more sense, like why FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe departed his job with little warning, a few months earlier than expected. Quite a few folks in the political realm insisted the president must have somehow pushed McCabe out, but maybe there’s something bad coming the bureau’s way, and it’s best if he exits the building sooner rather than later:
In a recent conversation, Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, raised concerns about a forthcoming inspector general report. In that discussion, according to one former law enforcement official close to Mr. McCabe, Mr. Wray suggested moving Mr. McCabe into another job, which would have been a demotion.
Agents and lawyers expect the report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, to be highly critical of some F.B.I. actions in 2016, when the bureau was investigating both Hillary Clinton’s email use and the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia. The report is expected to address whether Mr. McCabe should have recused himself from the Clinton investigation because of his wife’s failed State Senate campaign, in which she accepted nearly a half-million dollars in contributions from the political organization of Terry McAuliffe, then the governor of Virginia, who is a longtime friend of Mrs. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
Mr. McCabe did not become deputy director until after his wife was defeated, and records show that he disclosed her candidacy and sought ethics advice from senior F.B.I. officials.
But critics, including some inside the bureau itself, said he should have recused himself from the Clinton investigation. The F.B.I. has said Mr. McCabe played no role in his wife’s campaign.
This inspector general’s report isn’t out yet, so we’ll have to wait, but that sure doesn’t sound like the IG is going to say, “Nah, everything was hunky-dory, nothing to see here.”
Former FBI director James Comey tweeted, “Special Agent Andrew McCabe stood tall over the last 8 months, when small people were trying to tear down an institution we all depend on. He served with distinction for two decades.” Of course, he was presumably among those who saw no problem with McCabe working on the Clinton cases after his wife had benefited from McAuliffe’s giant campaign donations. Comey’s on the hook in this IG report, too.
If you haven’t already done so, please click through and read my soup-to-nuts look at the Koch Seminar Network winter meeting — covering everything from their outlook for 2018, criminal-justice reform, relationship with the Trump administration, achievements in the states, fights against campus speech codes, structural advantages . . . it will make the suits grumble less when I submit my expense report for this trip.
On immigration, a previous sticking point between the Kochs and the Trump administration, it sounds like the network wants to “get to yes” and find an immigration deal they can support.
“The proposal from the White House is a good proposal and we want to applaud them for it,” said Brian Hooks, president of the Charles Koch Foundation and Charles Koch Institute, emphasizing that his nuanced perspective of the White House’s policy can’t be summarized briefly. “It is thoughtful to provide legal certainty for Dreamers, and a path to citizenship is enormous incentive to continue to contribute to this country.” But he also emphasizes that the network will not support “arbitrary reduction to future immigration levels” or “ending family migration in the absence of an alternative.” But they leave the door open to making changes to family-based immigration policies. “If they want to have a conversation about whether family status is the best standard to judge eligibility” for immigration, “that is a conversation that we think is appropriate to have.”
ADDENDA: In case you missed it, my magazine piece on the growing pains of Bernie Sanders’s grassroots group, Our Revolution:
“It’s a little like the Howard Dean movement on steroids,” says Brad Todd, a political strategist who was the lead consultant behind the National Republican Congressional Committee’s strategy to retake the House in 2010. “The story’s been written about the traditional Republican-party leadership being overthrown by Donald Trump. What hasn’t been written as much is the story of the traditional Democratic party run by Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Al Gore being overthrown by people who don’t care to call themselves Democrats much.”