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What is the State of the Union Address?

  • VOA Staff

The Capitol Dome in Washington is illuminated early, Jan. 12, 2016, as President Barack Obama prepares to deliver his final State of the Union address before Congress.

The Capitol Dome in Washington is illuminated early, Jan. 12, 2016, as President Barack Obama prepares to deliver his final State of the Union address before Congress.

Why do presidents give a State of the Union address?

The U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 3, Clause 1, requires the president "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."

Where and when does the speech take place?

- The speech takes place in the House chamber in front of members of the House of Representatives, the Senate, Supreme Court, the Cabinet, the Diplomatic Corps and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

- A House concurrent resolution sets aside the day and time for a Joint Session for the president to deliver his remarks.

- Until 1934, the Annual Message, as it was previously called, was delivered every December. Since then the address has been delivered in January or February.

Who delivered the first State of the Union address?

Delivered by George Washington on January 8, 1790, the speech was reportedly just 833 words long, the shortest address in U.S. history.

Is it always delivered in-person?

- No. In 1801 Thomas Jefferson sent written copies of his first address to both houses of Congress to be read by each chamber's clerks.

- The practice of sending written copies to Congress continued for more than a century. Woodrow Wilson resumed the practice of delivering it in person in 1913.

How has technology changed how the speech is delivered?

- Calvin Coolidge gave the first radio broadcast of the address in 1923.

- The first televised address was in 1947, by Harry Truman.

- In 2002, George W. Bush's speech made history as the first address made available live on the Internet.

When was the first opposition response?

- The first official, televised opposition response to a president’s annual message occurred in 1966.

- Since 1982, it has become customary for the opposition party, usually members of Congress, to provide responses.

When did the tradition of inviting special guests begin?

- Ronald Reagan was the first president to invite special guests to sit beside the first lady and recognize them during the speech, in 1982.

- This year the special guests will be a Syrian refugee and a Muslim former U.S. soldier.

What is a 'designated survivor'?

- A designated survivor is appointed for every State of The Union address. This is a member of the president's Cabinet who will assume the presidency in the event of a catastrophic disaster that takes out the country's leaders and the line of succession.

- The survivor, whose identity is kept secret, is selected several weeks before the president's speech. On the day of the address, they are taken to a secret location and remain under security until the president returns to the White House and other leaders disperse from the Capitol.

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