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The concept for a State of the Union address is enshrined in Article II, Section 3, Clause I of the Constitution, which states that the president “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.”
The third president, Thomas Jefferson, broke with his predecessors for his State of the Union address, electing to deliver his message in writing. Jefferson set a precedent that lasted for more than 100 years, until President Woodrow Wilson spoke in person to a joint session of Congress in 1913, according to the Archives.
Washington had the shortest address, with his 1790 speech spanning just 833 words. It is believed to have lasted only 10 minutes.
Presidents William Henry Harrison and James Garfield never delivered a State of the Union address. Both died in office before they were able to.
President Barack Obama is the only African-American, president or not, to have ever addressed a joint session of Congress.
The State of the Union address has been postponed only once, in 1986. President Ronald Reagan’s address was originally scheduled on the same day as the Challenger space shuttle explosion. It was delayed until the following week in light of the tragedy.
The opposition response
The Massachusetts congressman comes from one of the most prominent families in American politics as the great-nephew of former President John F. Kennedy. He will follow in the footsteps of his great-uncle, Sen. Ted Kennedy, who was part of a group response to President Ronald Reagan’s State of the Union in 1982.
The designated survivor
At least one member of the President’s Cabinet is selected to stay behind from the speech each year in case of emergency. The designated survivor goes to a distant, secure and undisclosed location outside Washington while everyone else gathers to listen to the President’s address in the Capitol.
The designated survivor must be eligible to be president, and if a higher-ranking successor survives a potential incident, that person would become president ahead of the designated survivor. The practice started in the 1960s, during the Cold War, when there were fears of a nuclear attack.
Last year, the President and first lady Melania Trump hosted:
- Megan Crowley, a 20-year-old Notre Dame sophomore diagnosed with Pompe disease
- Jessica Davis and Susan Oliver, the widows of slain Detective Michael Davis and Deputy Sheriff Danny Oliver, respectively
- Denisha Merriweather, a first generation graduate
- Maureen McCarthy Scalia, widow of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
- Jamiel Shaw Sr., whose son, Jamiel Jr., was shot and killed by an undocumented immigrant
- Carryn Owens, the widow of slain Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, who was killed during an operation in Yemen in January 2017.
The State of the Union is delivered in the chamber of the House of Representatives with members of both the House and the Senate, as well as the justices of the Supreme Court, members of the president’s cabinet and the diplomatic corps in attendance.
The president is escorted into the chamber by members of both the House and the Senate, and their arrival is announced by the sergeant-at-arms of the House of Representatives. The speaker of the House introduces the president.
The top members of each chamber of Congress are seated behind the president during the address: the vice president (who is the president of the Senate) and the speaker of the House. The president pro tempore of the Senate sits in the vice president’s seat if the vice president is not in attendance.
CNN’s Adam Levy, Wade Payson-Denney, Madison Park, MJ Lee, Dana Bash and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.