President Trump’s State of the Union address: A historical primer

AS OF PRESS TIME, President Donald Trump addressed the American people on Tuesday night, February 5 through the State of the Union (SOTU) address, which was originally scheduled for January 31, but had to be rescheduled because of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

This tradition has a basis in the U.S. Constitution. Article II, Section 3, Clause 1 mandates 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.”

While the SOTU has undergone several name changes through the years, the focus of the president’s official message delivered in-person has been changing as the Union faces different challenges, crises and opportunities since President Woodrow Wilson’s 1913 address.

According to the records of the House of Representatives, “earlier Annual Messages of the President included agency budget requests and general reports on the health of the economy. During the 20th century, Congress required more-specialized reports on these two aspects, separate from the Annual Message:

Budget Message, required by the National Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 (42 Stat. 20) to be delivered to Congress no more than two weeks after Congress convenes in January.

Economic Report, required by the Employment Act of 1946 (60 Stat. 23), with a flexible delivery date.

Over time, as the message content changed, the focus of the State of the Union also changed:

In the 19th century, the annual message was both a lengthy administrative report on the various departments of the executive branch and a budget and economic message.

After 1913, when Woodrow Wilson revived the practice of presenting the message to Congress in person, it became a platform for the President to rally support for his agenda.

Technological changes—radio, television, and the Internet—further developed the State of the Union into a forum for the President to speak directly to the American people.

After the president delivers the SOTU, it has been a tradition to hear the State of the Union from the opposition party. According to the House, this began in 1966 when the television networks provided the Republican party with a half-hour slot. Senator Everett Dirksen (Republican, Illinois) and Representative Gerald R. Ford (Republican, Michigan) delivered the first opposition response. By 1976 the television networks were providing a slot for the opposition party almost immediately after the State of the Union address.

DAYS BEFORE Trump’s SOTU, almost seven in 10 said the federal government was doing a bad job of governing, with four out of 10 saying the government under Trump’s presidency is “the worst governing of their lifetimes”, according to the latest CNN poll.

President Donald Trump’s overall approval rating stands at 40 percent approve to 55 percent disapprove, according to the same new poll.

As we digest Trump’s SOTU, let us check out what the polls say regarding important issues that serve as the backdrop to Trump’s message. Quoting CNN:

Trump’s approval rating for handling immigration — the issue at the heart of the shutdown — stands at 41 percent. Although that is also not a significant improvement compared with his ratings before the shutdown, it is his best read on the matter in CNN polling since April 2017.

But most still disapprove of the President’s work on the issue (54 percent disapprove) and the public is largely opposed to Trump’s proposed paths forward on the wall he pledged to build along the southern border between the United States and Mexico. Two-thirds say he should not declare a national emergency in order to build the wall (66 percent should not vs. 31 percent should), and 57 percent say they would oppose another partial government shutdown over wall funding.

The President’s base, however, is playing a different tune. Among conservative Republicans, there is massive support for another government shutdown (78 percent would favor that if no agreement is reached including wall funding) or for the declaration of a national emergency in order to build the wall (72 percent favor that).

With the American people fearing another government shutdown because of Trump refusing to support any spending bill that will not fund for his wall with the warning this could happen again if he does not get the funding by February 15, the poll suggests most want to avoid shutdowns in the future: 53 percent would back legislation preventing any future shutdowns, 40 percent would oppose that.

WILL TRUMP SUCCEED in his goal to get the American people on board and support his agenda and priorities. Will he be able to “unify” the American people through his State of the Union Address moving forward?

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Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to,

Gel Santos Relos

Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to and

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