This idea’s been kicking around for a week. Today, the editor of National Review gives it a thumbs up in the NYT.
“Yes, there’s a risk to overreacting, but there’s a risk to underreacting as well,” said Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review. “And I fear that’s the way the congressional leadership is leaning.”
Mr. Lowry suggested one way Congress could react. “If I were John Boehner,” he said, referring to the House speaker, “I’d say to the president: ‘Send us your State of the Union in writing. You’re not welcome in our chamber.’”
Drew McCoy made the argument at greater length in a post on Ace’s site a few days ago:
Yesterday, Boehner said, “The president had said before that he’s not king and he’s not an emperor,” Boehner says. “But he’s sure acting like one.”
Why would the Speaker invite such a man to address “the people’s house”? All Obama would do would use the time to lecture members of a co-equal branch on what they must do and what he deems acceptable work product for them. Members of the United States Congress are under no obligation to sit mutely while the President brow beats them.
Obama has said he doesn’t feel compelled to listen to the voters who showed up to the polls a little over two weeks ago. The Representatives elected by those people should make it clear they are simply acting in kind, they will not listen to him.
Yes the media will be apoplectic about this. Good, that’s the point. This is a serious moment in our nation’s history. I’ve not seen a single Republican, even ones who strongly support legislative amnesty, support the President on this. The outrage caused by what is an extreme step will help to focus the nation on the threat to our constitutional order.
One act of “discretion” begets another, argues Drew. Obama’s using his discretion as chief executive to take a dump on separation of powers by seizing Congress’s authority over immigration. Boehner can use his own discretion as Speaker in taking the far more modest step of declining to invite a guy with a caudillo’s view of the federal legislature to address it. Let the media chew on that for awhile. If nothing else, it’s a way to force the public to focus again on just how dubious O’s power grab was a few months after it happened, when they’ll otherwise have lost interest.
Bad, bad idea, counters Ramesh Ponnuru, Lowry’s colleague at NR:
It wouldn’t raise the political cost to Obama or the Democrats for having rewritten immigration law. It would make Republicans look petty and unreasonable, unwilling even to listen to the president. (Make that “to the black president.’ You can write the Maureen Dowd column in your head: “Boehner said his kind wasn’t welcome here. . .”) It would be great to return to the old tradition of written State of the Union reports, but this isn’t the way to do it.
True enough about the lazy racial narrative that would emerge, notwithstanding the fact that Boehner’s invited Obama to speak four times already. And true enough that written SOTUs would be a welcome reversion from the new norm of presidents repeating the same speech they’ve given for the past 50 years, of which nobody remembers a minute the next day. (What’s the last presidential address to Congress to have made a real impact? Bush’s “axis of evil” speech in 2002?) But if this isn’t the time to end the 20th century tradition of in-person SOTUs, then when? If Boehner invites Obama to speak this year and then refuses to invite him next year, after the amnesty uproar has quieted down, the media might feign greater offense at that than they would if the Speaker pulls the plug now. You can, again, write the Maureen Dowd column in your head: “If this was about Obama’s policies rather than his race, Boehner would have disinvited the president last year, when the immigration debate was raging.” The calculus won’t get easier either if Democrats hold the White House in 2016. After inviting Obama to speak for eight years, how could Boehner justify declining an invite to the first woman president on grounds that it’s suddenly time to get back to old-school written SOTUs? And needless to say, if a Republican wins the presidency in two years, his own party won’t deny him a golden opportunity to address 50 million people on live television. Face it — if Boehner doesn’t pull the plug now, the best-case scenario we’re staring at for the next six years is getting to hear Scott Walker make the same old speech that all presidents make instead of Obama. Nothing against Walker, but that’s depressing.
Honestly, I’m torn. Drew’s point about not entertaining the president in “the people’s house” when he’s been so contemptuous of their constitutional prerogatives is elegant and well taken. If we now have a system of semi-permanent Democratic presidencies and semi-permanent Republican congressional majorities (at least in the House), which means more dubious executive action to come from O’s Democratic successors and a de facto cold war between the branches, why give “the enemy” a free hour of airtime on the House’s dime? But Ramesh is right that, the civic arguments notwithstanding, it would feel petty and impotent. Obama will still deliver his address, just at the White House instead of in Congress, and it’ll still be carried on TV. And he’ll spend half the time whining that “the party of no” refused to extend him the same courtesy that presidents over the last century have enjoyed, proving that their supposedly principled objections to his immigration power grab is really more a byproduct of personal disdain. If we’re going to garnish our more serious rebukes to O like defunding DHS and blocking presidential nominees with a meaningless symbolic gesture, why not censure the guy instead?
Weighing all the pros and cons, I’m going to violate the first rule of blogging and say that … it doesn’t really matter what happens. No one outside political media cares about the SOTU, especially in year seven of an increasingly dreary presidency. If Boehner invites O despite his amnesty audacity, conservatives will be mad but they’ll get over it in a day or two. If he doesn’t invite O, liberals and their friends in the press will be mad but they’ll get over it in a day or two. Obama will give his speech regardless and not a word of it will be remembered. How’s that for perspective?