- In 1999, then-President Bill Clinton reported on the State of the Union in the middle of his own impeachment inquiry.
- In his 77-minute speech to the American public, Clinton didn’t mention the investigation at all.
- As Trump prepares to make a State of the Union address in a similar backdrop, it’s unclear if he will fail to mention impeachment or address it head-on.
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Despite calls from Congressmen on either side of the aisle to postpone the address until after the process had ended, Clinton gave an impassioned and moving speech.
But in his 77-minute address, Clinton did not utter the word “impeachment” – or anything related to the ongoing investigation – even once.
The State of the Union provides an opportunity for presidents to tout the accomplishments of their administration, set a policy agenda for the coming year, and speak directly to Americans without the filter of news organisations – as well as to spin any scandal that they may be facing.
For Clinton, the State of the Union held the promise of redemption. It was an opportunity to send a message to Americans, and most importantly his accusers in Congress, that there was more important work to be accomplished. Impeachment, he implied, would deter that.
“My fellow Americans, I stand before you tonight to report that the state of our union is strong. America is working again. The promise of our future is limitless,” Clinton said. “But we cannot realise that promise if we allow the hum of our prosperity to lull us into complacency.”
Bill Clinton’s address touted the booming economy
Standing at the pulpit of the House Chambers in 1999, Clinton started by praising the federal government’s accomplishments, including reducing crime rates, achieving the cleanest environment, preparing for the digital age of the 21st century, and achieving the “longest peacetime economic expansion in our history.” He pointed specifically to the creation of 18 million new jobs, rising wages, higher rates of homeownership, and reducing the national debt.
Clinton called on Americans to work towards “a more perfect union,” pushing for action on for Social Security, healthcare, education, and military preparedness. He even tried to reach across the aisle, declaring the need for bipartisan support to accomplish these ambitious tasks at hand.
“I reach out my hand to all of you in both Houses, in both parties, and ask that we join together in saying to the American people: We will save Social Security now,” Clinton said at the time.
The former president ended the speech harkening back to all that the country had overcome in the last century: “overcoming Depression…bringing down barriers to racial prejudice… winning two world wars and the ‘long twilight struggle’ of the Cold War,” Clinton listed.
His speech in 1998 came just a week after the first reports about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
According to a New York Times analysis of Clinton’s State of the Union speech from the time, his previous address was “a hit with the public and helped to salvage a foundering Presidency.”
In December 1998, the House had voted to impeach him on two counts, perjury and obstruction of justice, by a narrow majority.
The promise of using the speech to turn the tide of the ongoing scandal was strong for Clinton – but spectators at the time said the ongoing investigations and Clinton’s transgressions overpowered his rousing performance.
”This is a stage performance of Clinton at his best,” Brinkley told The New York Times in 1999. ”We watch in wonderment this flawed, failed President who has so much talent, so much intelligence, but whose Achilles’ heel has been so destructive for him.”
Despite the vague “clash of controversy” he mentioned in his State of the Union speech, the Senate later acquitted Clinton.
Clinton, ironically, ended his speech referencing the future American presidents reporting on the State of the Union and hoping that Americans would have “put aside our divisions” and “joined together to serve and strengthen the land we love.”
But as President Donald Trump’s own 2020 State of the Union address approaches, Clinton could not have been more wrong.
Trump is making his 2020 State of the Union speech during his own impeachment Senate trial
On the evening of February 4, President Donald Trump faces the same treacherous backdrop for his State of the Union speech.
For Trump, the State of the Union is one of few presidential obligations in which he follows in the footsteps of his predecessors. Much like the presidents before him who faced impeachment, Trump may address his administration’s accomplishments, the need for bipartisan policies, and establish his position as commander-in-chief.
However, according to FiveThirtyEight, the State of the Union is unlikely to change his approval ratings. An NBC and Wall Street Journal poll found that Senate trial has done little to change the views of Americans on Trump’s impeachment: 46% of registered voters supported President Trump’s removal to office, while 49% said the Trump should remain in office.
It’s possible that Trump will renew his and other Republican leaders’ claims that the impeachment process has been a “sham” political process by Democratic leaders who are upset by the 2016 election results.
But, like Clinton, Trump may also fail to mention the ongoing impeachment process at all.
In an interview with Fox News, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham does not believe the President will not bring up the Senate trial in his speech Tuesday night.
Despite the deep divisions within the federal government, Grisham also said that Trump would reach across the aisle to pass more bipartisan policy priorities such as prescription drug reform.
“I think that he will not stop trying,” she said on Fox News. “In the five years that I’ve known him, the more you go against him, the harder he works to make it work, So I do [believe we can get something done]. I’m optimistic that some more can happen.”
- Read more:
- Impeachment crushed Nixon’s approval ratings, but Clinton emerged unscathed. Here’s how Trump could survive, too.
- A GOP Senator warned that a ‘President Joe Biden’ could be impeached over Ukraine ‘the day after he would be elected’
- After a historic vote not to call witnesses in Trump’s impeachment trial, the Senate is scheduled for a final vote on Wednesday
- In an unprecedented move, the Senate voted against calling witnesses in Trump’s impeachment trial
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