- The State of the Union address is the biggest event of the year in the US Capitol building.
- There are all kinds of unique procedures and customs pertaining to the annual speech to a joint session of Congress.
- This year’s State of the Union address is scheduled for Tuesday, February 5.
- From “aisle hogs” to special guests to the “designated survivor,” here’s some of the quirks you might not know about the State of the Union.
The State of the Union address brings both chambers of Congress together, along with the cabinet, the Supreme Court, and the joint chiefs of staff to listen to the president deliver his annual address.
There are countless procedures that take place in the lead up to the State of the Union, as well as customs during the speech that people watching at home on the television cannot exactly see.
President Donald Trump delivers his second State of the Union address on February 5. Here are some of the behind-the-scenes details you might miss while watching on TV.
Congress enters a joint session.
Before the State of the Union can even begin, the speaker of the House offers a resolution to enter a joint session of Congress, meaning both the House and Senate come together for the president’s speech. This typically passes by unanimous consent.
The president is entirely surrounded.
During the president’s speech, he is entirely surrounded by almost every single member of Congress, the cabinet, the Supreme Court, the joint chiefs of staff, and a large share of the Capitol Hill press corps.
The event is the most packed the Capitol will be all year.
Aisle hogs will park themselves up to six hours before the address.
There is a small group of lawmakers who will camp out in the aisle seats of the House chamber as much as six hours in advance in order to be in position to shake hands with the president, ask for an autograph, or whisper something in his ear about a policy pet project.
The Capitol press corps sit directly above and behind the president.
Journalists covering the speech are seated directly above the president.
From the press gallery, you cannot actually see the president during the speech. But the vantage point gives reporters a perfect view of the entire audience to gauge individual reactions among members of Congress, the cabinet, the joint chiefs of staff, and the Supreme Court.
Members of Congress and the president invite special guests.
The president will often point to specific guests during his speech, citing acts of heroism and bravery and why they should be honored during the State of the Union. Members of Congress will also invite special guests and family members to sit in the galleries above.
The president will sign autographs after the speech ends.
Lawmakers who are particularly big fans of the president but might not get a lot of face-time with him will rush over to the president as he exits the chamber to seek an autograph.
During Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress in 2017, which was not technically a State of the Union, he signed an autograph for North Carolina Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx.
The designated survivor won’t be in the building.
Every year, one member of the president’s cabinet is selected to not attend the address in the event of a catastrophic attack. This person is referred to as the “designated survivor.”
The two who sit behind the president.
Seated behind the president are always the vice president (who is president of the Senate) and the speaker of the House.
When Trump takes the stage on February 5, Pelosi will return to her seat on the dais for the first time since 2010.
Democrats sit stage right, Republicans sit stage left.
Occasionally a member will venture to the other side, but for the most part, Republicans and Democrats divide the room and sit according to party. In 2018, Oklahoma Republican Rep. Markwayne Mullin sat with Democrats during the address.
There could be a future president in the crowd.
Members of Congress often seek higher office and run for president, meaning a future president or presidents could be among the crowd.
Already, several Democratic senators and representatives have launched 2020 presidential campaigns.
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