State of Union Slated for Feb. 2, Hill Sources Say

Posted January 3, 2005 at 6:45pm

Congress and the White House have reached tentative agreement to hold the president’s State of the Union address on Feb. 2, amid administration apprehension over its proximity to the Jan. 20 inauguration, Congressional sources said.

Some in the White House have been concerned that the State of the Union address, coming so closely on the heels of the inaugural address, could lose some of its punch, the sources said.

In 2001, President Bush waited until late February to deliver his first speech to Congress. An incoming president’s first speech, however, is not considered to be a State of the Union address and thus does not face as many scheduling constraints.

Some newly re-elected presidents have chosen to send a written message to Congress rather than deliver a State of the Union address. The most recent of these was President Richard Nixon, who waited until 1974 to deliver his first re-election speech to Congress, after being returned to office in November 1972.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy declined say whether the president had agreed to the early February date, saying it is “up to the [House] to announce” the schedule for its chamber.

He also took issue with the notion that there is concern within the White House about the proximity of the two speeches.

“I’d imagine there will be some overlap, but they’ll be different speeches,” Duffy said. He added that the inaugural speech will likely be “broader in scope” — for instance, talking more about America’s role in the world than about the administration’s agenda for the forthcoming legislative session.

Congress’ long-standing customs were a key factor in narrowing the window of opportunity for scheduling the annual address.

Presidential inaugurations always occur on the Jan. 20 following the election. But presidents are expected to deliver their budgets to Congress on the first Monday of February — after they deliver the State of the Union.

That’s because, in addition to discussing the literal “state of the union,” the speech traditionally lays out the president’s agenda and priorities for the session ahead.

John Feehery, a spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), acknowledged that the timing of the budget submission has often imposed constraints on scheduling for the State of the Union address.

Asked whether an early February date might threaten to muddle the president’s inauguration message, Feehery said, “That’s not our problem.”