A Bit of History on Presidents and Joint Sessions

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President Obama’s health care speech tonight is officially an address to a joint session of Congress. Such addresses are somewhat out of the ordinary but not all that rare.

Certain events take place routinely during a joint session — counting electoral votes, for example, or delivering a State of the Union message. (When a president is first inaugurated, he usually gives just an address at a joint session.)...

... Most people today have been reminded that President Bill Clinton also used a joint session to address health care, in September 1993. (So, obviously, they don’t always have the desired effect.)...

...Among the most dramatic in modern history was on Nov. 27, 1963, when President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed a joint session after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy...

... Betty Koed, associate historian of the Senate, said that Wilson was the one who revived the tradition of joint sessions after Thomas Jefferson had dispensed with them.

“Jefferson hated public speaking and he thought delivering an address in person was monarchical,” she said. So he delivered his addresses to Congress in writing, and most presidents followed suit until Wilson came along.

“Wilson was great for meeting in person with people,” she said. “And he used these addresses as a means to gain popular support for his wartime policies and also to bend arms in Congress.”

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