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Capitol Staff Gearing Up for Annual Address

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
TV and lighting crews set up in Statuary Hall before a previous State of the Union address.

He works in tandem with the House Sergeant-at-Arms’ special events division to send out invitations and take a head count, which helps the Architect of the Capitol know how many extra chairs to bring onto the floor.

“We clean the building to our usual high standards,” AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki said, describing her agency’s contributions to the event. “We also provide support for the press by installing the media stands as well as providing extra power supplies ... throughout the Capitol — in particular in the gallery, chamber and Statuary Hall.”

In a way, it’s all about choreographing and timing the many moving parts, maintaining the dignity and decorum of the chamber and respecting the formal traditions of past addresses.

But in the midst of the fanfare, there’s also security to consider.

“The entire government is sitting in the House of Representatives all at once ... and you have to make sure that’s protected,” Assistant Capitol Police Chief Tom Reynolds said. “They are all there in one place. It’s kind of like out on the platform on the day of the inauguration.”

Gainer, a former Capitol Police chief, said the State of the Union can be less nerve-wracking than the inauguration, from which officers are only just recovering.

“You have complete control over everybody who comes into the building and, even further, everyone who can get into the chamber, the floor or the gallery,” he pointed out.

Planning for the event starts a month out to coordinate the many moving parts and get everybody on the same page.

But for an occasion so grounded in formula and precedent, Sims reflected that the 25-odd State of the Unions he’s helped orchestrate haven’t changed much from year to year.

Even the list of members who stake out aisle seats hours in advance of the address to shake the president’s hand has stayed mostly the same.

“Obviously security has changed, but other than that, I think, if you looked at one from 1987 and looked at the one [tonight] on television, they would probably pretty much look the same,” Sims said.

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