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The Updated Staffer Guide to the State of the Union 2015

The post-SOTU frenzy in Statuary Hall (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Nothing says January like the State of the Union.  

Every year, the nation tunes in to watch the House floor as members, senators, Supreme Court justices, Cabinet secretaries, dignitaries and VIPs fill the House chamber to listen (perhaps even interrupt) the president’s annual address to Congress. But with so many members (and VIPs and dignitaries) gallivanting under the Dome and vying for media attention, how can you make your boss stand out? This year’s Staffer Guide to State of the Union 2015 has several updates to help you make this most chaotic of nights a bit smoother for everyone involved. For the Press Secretary: This is your night. Sure, your boss might be the one sitting in the seat, but you’re the one to shuttle him or her from camera to camera in Statuary Hall and get that press release back to your home-state papers posthaste.  

A few key reminders:

  • Get your talking points ready. This year, the White House has been steadily releasing its “State of the Union Spoilers,” which include legislative-action items such as cybersecurity, housing and bolstering community colleges. Rather than reacting to the speech in mere moments, use the spoilers to get your boss up to speed. Keep in mind that because this is the first year the president has given the SOTU to an all-GOP-led Congress, both sides might be ready to wield their partisan swords.
  • Talk to your local paper ahead of time. Find out their deadlines and see if you can send an embargoed quote. It helps everyone get to bed a little earlier.
  • Find out which Statuary Hall cameras can pipe feed back to your local stations. Most TV stations want a local reaction to the SOTU for their 11 p.m. newscast and early morning shows. Start thinking of your State of the Union three-word summary, which Roll Call is reporting on again this year.
  • Remind the boss to put the smartphone away and practice a “resting face.” Every year someone gets caught scrolling on their device instead of listening. As much as Heard on the Hill loves it, don’t be that person.

For the Staff Assistant: Each member gets a guest, and often it’s the staff assistant’s job to greet that person and help them to their location.  

Some tips for you:

  • Get excited for your guest. No matter what you think of the president or his speech, this is a huge honor for your guest. Play it up. Gush a little. If your boss has deemed the visitor important, then don’t let her or him think otherwise.
  • Know where you’re going. State of the Union logistics can vary annually, sometimes the day of the event. If you’re unsure of the logistics, call your caucus leadership or the office of your chamber’s sergeant-at-arms.

For the Policy Staffers: Kick back and take it easy. Typically, a response is not needed from you on SOTU night. Find a D.C. bar and watch the speech, or stay at home in your PJs. Just make it to the end of the speech and check your email before calling it a night. Even though the president has been unveiling his SOTU spoilers ahead of time, that doesn’t mean there won't be a surprise or two in the speech.  

For the Chief of Staff: Offices have varying rules about how late staffers need to stay when the boss is around. Figure out who needs to stay and communicate that, preferably a day ahead of time. And if the edict comes down that everyone needs to be there watching the SOTU from their desks, (there are some offices …), then order-in dinner. Boss’s treat. Bonus if you bring in bagels and coffee on Wednesday morning.  

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