State of the Union Address
Category: Discovery & Impact, General News

Title: Inside the State of the Union Address

Date Published: February 28, 2022

When President Obama said the words, ‘when women succeed, America succeeds,’ it was like fireworks were set off in the House Chamber. President Obama’s speechwriter told me that that line received the longest applause line of any in his SOTU speeches during his eight years as president.

Ashley Etienne

Generating buzz around the SOTU Address 

When the House Speaker and the president are members of the same party, the Speaker supports them in advancing a shared agenda and message, much like what will happen this year, with Democrats in control of the Executive Branch and Congress. 

“At minimum, speech writers, communications strategists and senior leadership work together for weeks to develop the president’s address and the strategy and tactics around amplifying the policy priorities in the speech and the message,” said Etienne.

The White House communications team may also strategically release aspects of the speech prior to the address. “The Obama Administration set a new precedent by rolling out the big policy pieces individually,” recalled Etienne. “One year, we front loaded the message, giving each policy its own moment to shine in the press and among the public, and enabling us to mobilize advocates to help amplify each point at the local and national levels before the speech even happened. We were able to generate media more effectively that way, and the message didn’t get lost.”

“Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, and others in the current administration worked at the White House during that time, so we may see them recycle the Obama strategy,” said Etienne. 

Orchestrating the main event

On the day of the event, Speaker Pelosi often holds a roundtable with reporters, providing a preview of the president’s speech. The House Speaker’s staff is tasked with limiting the number of movements and camera placements on the floor of the House Chamber, as well as determining which media outlets have access during the live event. When it’s over, members of Congress speak with reporters from all over the country in the Capitol Rotunda to begin communicating their positions on the president’s policy priorities.

“There is typically some level of coordination in terms of the legislative agenda and messaging coming out of the speech” said Etienne. “In a year when Democrats have control of the White House, the House and Senate, it will be interesting to see the degree to which they are coordinating and whether that is apparent in the days leading up to and weeks after the president’s address.”