Thursday, January 12, 2006

Boycott the State of the Union Address?

In January of 1999, President Bill Clinton was preparing to give the annual State of the Union address on the nineteenth of January. During this time Congress was in the middle of the impeachment proceedings against Clinton. Two Republican Congressman, John Shadegg (R-AZ) and Bob Schaffer (R-CO) circulated a letter among their colleagues calling on them to boycott the State of the Union Address.

A CNN All Politics report from January 19, 1999 states:
In a "Dear Republican Colleague" letter, the congressmen write, "While some argue that attending the address is a matter of respect for the OFFICE of the presidency, it is difficult to accept in the current context.

"By proceeding with his speech, the President is demonstrating his lack of respect for the Congress and its legitimate role," the pair complain. "He also clearly intends to gain political advantage and demean the significance of the impeachment proceeding now going forward in the Senate."

Saying they "will not play a role in facilitating his disrespect," Shadegg and Schaffer call on Clinton to either postpone his speech or deliver it from the Oval Office, not the House chamber.

"If he refuses to do so, we will not be present in the chamber for the address," they wrote.
Dennis Hastert was the newly installed Republican Speaker of the House after Newt Gingrinch was forced to step down over ethics violations. Undoubtedly influenced by recent polls showing a soaring approval rating for Clinton and a crashing one for the GOP, Hastert asked Republicans to attend the speech (from CNN All Politics December 20, 1998):
In the wake of the House of Representatives' approval of two articles of impeachment, Bill Clinton's approval rating has jumped 10 points to 73 percent, the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows.

That's not only an all-time high for Clinton, it also beats the highest approval rating President Ronald Reagan ever had.

At the same time, the number of Americans with an unfavorable view of the Republican Party has jumped 10 points; less than a third of the country now has a favorable view of the GOP.

Despite concerns that public calls for Clinton's resignation would rise after his impeachment, the number of Americans who want Clinton to resign has remained statistically unchanged. Only 30 percent want Clinton to resign; only 29 percent want the Senate to convict Clinton and remove him from office.
I wonder if the 30% who wanted Clinton to reisgn or supported impeachment be the same people that blindly support Bush regardless of what he does, now? It would be interesting to see that in a poll, but as Media Matters has pointed out outlets like the Washinton Post, despite doing similar polling on Clinton:
do not "do a poll on whether President Bush should be impeached" because such a question "is biased and would produce a misleading result."

The Washington Post ran a story on January 15, 1999, State of Union Puts GOP in a Dilemma, which highlighted the Republicans views against the upcoming SOTU:
With President Clinton planning to deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, many GOP lawmakers are wrestling with how to demonstrate respect for the office of the presidency without endorsing the conduct that prompted them to vote to impeach the chief executive in December.

Even moderate Republican Rep. Christopher Shays (Conn.), one of a handful of GOP House members who voted against impeachment, voiced concern about whether he can afford to be caught on camera clapping when the president announces a policy initiative Shays supports.

"From a selfish standpoint, I just wish he wouldn't do it," Shays said. "I will be in the chamber, but I will be in the far right," away from the cameras.

A few Republicans have decided to boycott the address. Rep. Tom Coburn, a conservative junior member, will remain in his Oklahoma district. In a letter Wednesday, Coburn urged House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to ask to delay the speech or deliver it in writing.

"He's going to be addressing the very people who are going to be making decisions about him," Coburn said. "The timing is wrong right now. I don't think it hurts the nation one bit to delay it two or three weeks."

Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) said he expects to watch the speech on television from home, but said it was not out of disrespect. "Mostly because it's not fun," he told ABC's "Nightline" on Wednesday. ". . . I can watch on television and do my leaping from my feet at home."

None of the top Republicans have questioned the appropriateness of his address, and aides to Clinton critic Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), the majority whip, briefly considered calling members' offices to check on attendance before concluding it was not necessary.

A coincidental quirk of timing, rather than Clinton's troubles, may keep attendance down. Republican House leaders have scheduled no floor votes until Feb. 2 on the theory that committees should have more time to develop legislation.

As a result, said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), lawmakers can continue working in their districts without needing to be in Washington for a vote. "If I was a junior congressman, I don't think I'd go up for the State of the Union," he said.

Barton noted that Republicans decided to go ahead with impeachment proceedings even as the U.S. bombed Iraq last month, and it only makes sense that Clinton address the nation as the Senate trial continues.
Many Republicans did boycott the SOTU. I don’t know if there was a full accounting of who was in attendance, but there was some notable coverage in the news afterwards.

The New York Times in an article from the following day, State Of The Union: The No-Shows; Some Boycott the Speech (unfortunately this is now Times Select service and I don’t have access or the inclination nor finances to pay to see more):
Some lawmakers fail to attend State of the Union speech; reasons include illness, reluctance to return to Washington when House is not in session and protest against Pres Clinton's presence while he is on trial in Senate; Rep Henry J Hyde blames bad back; Reps John Shadegg, Bob Schaffer and Bob Barr boycott speech.

The flu felled a few of them; others didn't want to make the long trip here when the House of Representatives won't be back in session again until next month. But some of the lawmakers absent from the House chamber tonight were actually boycotting it.
The Cincinnati Enquirer had a similar article, State Of The Union Notebook: Thanks, But We’ll Pass, which includes criticism of Ohio Republican Senator Mike DeWine:
Several Republicans did not attend President Clinton's State of the Union address, saying it was inappropriate for Mr. Clinton to appear before Congress during his impeachment trial.

“The president is demonstrating his lack of respect for the Congress,” Reps. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., and Bob Schaffer, R-Colo., wrote in a letter explaining their absences.

Most Republicans, however, decided to follow the lead of new House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who wrote that despite the “discomfort,” Congress had a duty to hear the views of the president.
Listen up, Mr. DeWine
Union members came. So did feminists. And a minister.

Each watched President Clinton's State of the Union address at a Columbus, Ohio, union hall to lend support to those urging the U.S. Senate to end the impeachment trial that threatens Mr. Clinton's future.

“They've been after him since he got into office,” said Lula Oliver, a 69-year-old Columbus woman who attended the gathering, sponsored by People for the American Way, a liberal organization that organized community State of the Union viewings in 18 cities, including Columbus.

“They say they don't like the way he behaves. I think they don't like his ideas, and they don't like that he talks about what matters.”

Larry Mays, a Baptist minister, said he hopes the speech and the meeting will spur more people opposed to the impeachment trial to speak out.

Rally organizers suggested opponents start with the office of U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio.

This has led me to ponder the following question:
Should the Democrats boycott Bush’s State of the Union address on January 31?

President Bush has certainly demonstrated a “lack of respect for the Congress” on many issues: misleading Congress and the nation to promote invading Iraq, failure to give any credible accountability for the Iraq War, authorizing the NSA’s unwarranted and illegal eavesdropping of US citizens, and finally his latest Nixonian paranoia statement warning Democrats to watch what they say.

What do you think? With the exception of Joe Lieberman, who will no doubt be sitting in the front row with fresh lipstick waiting to kiss Bush, should Democrats consider boycotting the upcoming State of The Union?


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