Viewers of President Clinton's January 27 State of the Union speech may have noticed on oddity: when House and Senate Democrats, less than 50% of the elected Members of Congress, stood up to give the president a standing ovation, it appeared that at least 2/3 of the Congressional chamber was standing.
This is because Democrats, desperate to slow the damage being done to Democrats by the president's current scandal (the November elections are now just nine months away), packed the room. And, although this has scarcely been mentioned by the national press, about half of the Congressional Republicans didn't show up at all.
The math is so simple it is surprising more reporters didn't notice. According to Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX), who once counted the seats while chairing House proceedings during a particularly slow legislative day, the Congressional chamber holds 434 seats, plus one for the Speaker of the House. The House and Senate together are 536 persons. Then, for purposes of the State of the Union, add the president's cabinet (plus, for this speech, a healthy number of non-cabinet White House staffers), the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Supreme Court. In the back, add the Congressional pages. Then add a large number of former Democratic Members of Congress, who coincidentally decided to attend this particular speech.
Picture again in your mind's eye the audience shots given during this State of the Union speech. Democrats clearly had taken over many Republican chairs. No one viewing would get the impression that the Democrats are the minority party.
A Member of Congress attending the speech counted Members, and found about half of the Republicans absent from the speech. Another Republican Member of Congress reported: "I went for two minutes, to demonstrate respect for the office of the president. Then I left."
Speaker Newt Gingrich warned the Republican Members of Congress that they had to be respectful to the president at the State of the Union speech. Apparently, he forget to tell them that they had to attend.
Amy Ridenour is president of The National Center for Public Policy Research. Comments may be sent to [email protected]
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