The president could open the State of the Union with a statement of no more than 10 minutes that, as before, would recognize national accomplishments of the past year and outline new initiatives. Then, the floor would be turned over to the vice president, in his role as president of the Senate, and the speaker of the House or the ranking minority leader. They would moderate together. Party leaders could select up to seven of their representatives to ask prepared questions, similar to the town hall format of some presidential debates. Every representative would be allowed to submit questions to party leaders, and some questions might be chosen at random.
The result: a candid discussion between the executive and legislative branches. Lawmakers would be able to raise their constituents’ concerns to the level of the presidency — to truly and visibly represent the people. Representatives would be in the spotlight, and their behavior could have the same positive or negative consequences that the president faces after a State of the Union address. Insightful, valid questions could build a representative’s political credibility, while those less deserving of the office might expose his or her buffoonery.
There is no shortage of issues that could and should be addressed by members of both parties and the president. For example, Obama might be asked how long he intends to leave troops in Afghanistan if he can reach a security agreement with Hamid Karzai , what he will do if the Geneva conference fails to end the bloodshed in Syria or what sanctions he is relaxing on Iran as part of the deal to limit its nuclear enrichment program. Every newsworthy topic — NSA surveillance, the Keystone pipeline, fracking, immigration law, whether enough “young invincibles” are signing up for Obamacare, the prospect of future government shutdowns — would be fair game.