If Trump came to Michigan, would it really be a SOTU address?

Donald Trump | Wikimedia Commons

Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) may have made a splash on Friday by inviting President Donald Trump to deliver his State of the Union speech in the state Capitol.

While critics expressed skepticism that such an event would ever happen, there’s another debate taking place.

George W. Bush delivers the State of the Union address to the U.S. House of Representatives | Wikimedia Commons

Historians disagree whether a presidential address in Lansing would actually be an official State of the Union address.

Considering it is meant to be a congressional address, an address given to a different chamber may not count, Michigan State University history Professor Emily Conroy-Krutz told the Advance.

“The president is required ‘from time to time to give to the Congress information of the State of the Union,’ as stated in Article II of the Constitution,” she said. “Whether that is done in writing or in person has changed over the course of U.S. history. But this does not seem to open up the possibility for a State of the Union Address to take place in the legislative chamber of any of the states.”

She noted that when the address — or the “Annual Message,” as it was called prior to President Woodrow Wilson — wasn’t given in person, it was delivered to Congress in writing.

U.S. Capitol | Susan J. Demas

Another MSU historian, Tom Summerhill, said that the Constitution makes it clear that the State of the Union address is meant to be a report to Congress. He noted that while the U.S. Constitution “does not specify the form of venue of the address, there is not doubt that the founders expected the executive to report to Congress on a regular basis.”

He added, “As a U.S. historian, my opinion is that the appropriate place to deliver the State of the Union address is in front of the U.S. House of Representatives, as the Constitution specifies.”

However, Peter Knupfer, an associate professor of history at MSU, disagreed, saying he knows of no law regulating or implementing where and how a State of the Union Address may be given.

Although U.S. presidents have traditionally delivered written messages to Congress, the practice changed in the era of television to center around the president’s political agenda, he noted.

Woodrow Wilson | Wikimedia Commons

From Wilson to the present, the message took the form of a speech delivered in person,” Knupfer said. “In the age of TV, it is more of a spectacle and rallying cry for the president’s agenda. Custom, not law, governs where, how and when it occurs. My sense is that the president can give that address in any recognizable form from anywhere he wants so long as he addresses Congress as his primary audience.”

Trump may not be delivering his speech in Congress, as U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) disinvited the Republican president over “security concerns” during the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history.

So Chatfield tweeted out his letter on Friday asking the GOP president to deliver his address in the Michigan House. “The success of our state & country is bigger than political parties!” he wrote.

Former state Rep. Laura Cox (R-Livonia), who is currently running for Michigan Republican Party chair, said she hopes Trump will accept the offer. “The President’s policies have helped create jobs & lower taxes.” Cox tweeted. “Michigan would be excited to host the State of the Union.”

But House Minority Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) criticized the move as another example of “partisan gamesmanship.”

Lee Chatfield

“At a time when Michigan is focused on building bridges, we should not allow ourselves to be distracted by partisan gamesmanship,” she said. “Instead of inviting Washington’s dysfunction to Lansing, I am ready to work with the Speaker and Governor [Gretchen] Whitmer to focus on the things that matter to Michigan families — fixing the roads, lowering health care costs and cleaning up our water.”

While critics doubt that a Trump SOTU will happen in the hallowed halls of the Michigan Capitol, the complicated logistics of such an event and the costs involved aren’t clear.

However, the Michigan State Police are always on standby to aid in security during presidential visits, MSP spokeswoman Shannon Banner said.

Chatfield spokesman Gideon D’Assandro confirmed that Chatfield has submitted the request to the White House in writing, in addition to the widely circulated tweet.

When asked about the likelihood of Trump actually delivering a State of the Union Address in Michigan, D’Assandro said, “We’ll leave that to the president.”

Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein covers the governor’s office, criminal justice and the environment. Before that, he wrote about state government and politics for the Detroit News, the Associated Press and MIRS News and won a Society of Professional Journalism award for open government reporting. He studied philosophy at Michigan State University, where he wrote for both The State News and Capital News Service. He began his journalism career freelancing for The Sturgis Journal, his hometown paper.


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