Update: Obama to address nation about Syria situation
President Barack Obama will use a national address from the White House to make his case about Syria directly to the American people.
The timing wasn’t announced as of Friday morning, but when President Obama last spoke from the Oval Office in 2010, both speeches were at 8 p.m. Eastern Time.
One sign that President Obama was considering a national address came from Secretary of State John Kerry, who told Congress on Wednesday he believed the President would take such an action, when asked about a speech in a Senate hearing.
“I have no doubt the president will,” Kerry replied. A statement came quickly from the White House to CNN that President Obama had no plans at the time to announce.
“The President will continue to make the case to the Congress and the country on the need for Congress to act, but we have no specific plans to announce at this time,” said Caitlin Hayden, a National Security Council spokesperson.
The ability of the President to use his position as a national leader to make an address is unique; the term “bully pulpit” was coined by President Theodore Roosevelt.
In Roosevelt’s day, the word “bully” was used a positive term equivalent to “very good,” even though TR and other future Presidents would use a national stage to pressure political opponents to change their minds, by rallying public support.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term bully pulpit is defined as “a public office or position of authority that provides its occupant with an outstanding opportunity to speak out on any issue.”
President Obama has already made extended public remarks about Syria, but a prime-time address from the Oval Office would be a significant gamble in an already tense situation in Washington.
He gave two Oval Office addresses in 2010 to speak about the Gulf oil spill and the end of hostilities in Iraq.
But in recent years, with the advent of 24-hour television news and the Internet, Presidents have scaled back their Oval Office appearances.
For example, President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden from the East Room, a different part of the White House, with a brief statement. President George W. Bush gave just six Oval Office addresses in eight years, including a speech on September 11, 2001.
In comparison, President Bill Clinton gave 13 Oval Office talks in eight years, while President George H.W. Bush gave 12 talks in four years. President Ronald Reagan made the Oval Office a central part of his policy, with 29 Oval Office talks.
In July, former Obama speech writer Jon Favreau told the Washington Post that the Oval Office address wasn’t the best format for the current President.
“I think it’s an odd format, and it makes him seem a little more stilted than he is, compared to standing before a crowd or in an interview,” he said. “If someone convinces him that it makes sense, he’ll do it. But I don’t think it’s his favorite venue.”
At the time, controversies over health care and government surveillance were seen as good reasons for a national prime-time speech.
Today, the President would have Syria, the roll out of Obamacare, a potential government shutdown and a national debt default as starter topics.
Currently, President Obama is at the G-20 summit in Russia where he is discussing the Syria situation with Vladimir Putin and other leaders.
The timing of an address to the nation is also a sensitive matter. Both of President Obama’s Oval Office addresses were made on a Tuesday night in 2010.
Congress is expected to be in the middle of a heated debate over Syria next week, and congressional leaders have stated they hope to have votes in the House and Senate after the full Congress returns on Monday.
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