The State of the Union address last night was watched by the Fellows last night with all the focus of a championship bowl game. I, myself, took a cab home after having dinner with a friend rather than using the cheaper but longer option of the Metro. I exchanged texts with one of my fellow Fellows, who was also heading home with all haste, trying to make sure she didn’t miss anything important. We each made it with time to spare so we got to watch the President’s entrance as well.
Preparations for the SOTU, as is has been called in all the papers this week, were pursued with the same attention to detail used for the Inauguration, but since the Capitol Police are still recovering from last month’s grand event, it was a relief that with everything inside the building, there were far fewer random events to consider. There was a walk-through for the support staff on Monday night, particularly so that the camera-people would have practice walking backwards through the space as they followed the President’s entrance. Like the Inauguration, visitors and dignitaries were stashed in every possible space in the Capitol. The Senators assembled in their chamber at 8:20 and walked over together. I also learned that for both the Inauguration and the SOTU, the Supreme Court Justices gathered in the old Supreme Court Chamber that the Court occupied until their new building was finally built in 1935. That seemed quite appropriate.
The House Chamber seats 450 normally, which is comfortable for its 435 members. The addition of 100 Senators plus the Justices and the Joint Chiefs meant that extra seating had to be squeezed in wherever possible. The Colorado delegation (the Senators and Representatives) traditionally try to sit together, but that often proves to be a challenge in the chaos of the chamber. Everyone knows the aisle that the President will enter and exit through, so there are always some people who come early to stake out those prime aisle seats to get that moment of face time, better known as TV time, with the President.
The gallery is filled with the guests. Each Senator and Representative was also allowed to bring a single guest, and that constituent often represents a cause or issue that is important to the Member of Congress. Obviously President Obama used this strategy as well to personalize the logistical challenges of voting in the past election and the victims of gun violence by highlighting some of his own guests who were present.
When the speech began, so did the texting frenzy between me and another Fellow. I started it by texting him when I spotted his Senator getting a TV moment with the President. That turned into a running commentary on the topics that were mentioned and how they were mentioned. I was particularly excited when the topic of national disasters came up, and “states having the worst wildfires in their histories last summer” came up. That was Colorado! (The return text was, “Down, Girl.”) My office had also read the expectation of the executive order on cybersecurity coming out this morning, so I was intrigued to hear that topic mentioned. My texting friends additionally clued me in that the green ribbons were in honor of the Sandy Hook victims. I confess I had wondered that so many people were supporting climate change action, which was my first thought.
About half way through the speech, I checked my Senate mail on my Blackberry, and I discovered that shortly before the event began, I received an “embargoed” copy of the speech. That meant that it was not to be shared until after it had finished. Still, it meant that I could check the progress and have an idea of how much more was left.
I watched the President’s departure in part to practice my Senator-spotting abilities. Thus I was extra excited to see Senator Bennet get his moment of face time with the President. Senator Bennet had been chosen to be part of the escort group, so I figured that moment was his due, but it was still pretty thrilling.