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View from the Gallery: Jeff Whiting Attends President’s State of the Union

By: Jeff Whiting

I had the privilege and honor of being invited by Congressman Todd Young to attend President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address on January 12th. Before the address, Congressman Young and I enjoyed an early dinner with his Chief of Staff and Legislative Director and discussed various topics, from tax reform to national defense. His broad understanding of a range of issues facing Hoosiers and all Americans gives me hope that our country is being served by individuals like Todd.

After dinner, we arrived at the US Capital around 7:15 PM for the 9:00 PM address. Security is beyond tight. It was layered and, in a strange way, it was also comforting to know that there are men and women who were there to protect not just the President and Congress, but all of us. After walking through the tunnel and having an opportunity to meet with Congressman Todd Rokita and Congressman Pat Tiberi (two very talented individuals whom we are fortunate to have serve in Congress), I arrived and took my seat in the gallery.

The address takes place in the House of Representatives. For me, the US Capital is a living history book. To think of the men and women who have served our country and have walked those very same halls is humbling. Clay, Webster, Cannon, Longworth, Rayburn, O’Neill and even Boehner are individuals who were of the People’s House.

It is clear that we are in the House of Representatives. Only members of Congress are allowed on the floor. It isn’t until the Vice President, who is President of the Senate, is announced by the sergeant of arms of the House that the members of the Senate enter the chamber. The Supreme Court Justices then enter the chamber, again, announced by the sergeant of arms. Finally, the President of the United States enters the chamber after being announced to the Speaker of the House. You can’t just enter the House of Representatives – you have to be invited.

The mood of the chamber changes quickly. At first, there is a dignified reception of the President. For the Democrats, it’s their man.  For Republicans, it’s the office the person holds.  As the receptions and cheers die down, the members and their guests settle. The speech begins and is seemingly a photo opportunity for most. Various members stand and cheer at almost any break in the President’s address. The largest and longest sustained response was when the President lauded our military. Speaker Ryan and Vice President Biden both stood as did the entire Congress and gallery.

The President also reiterated his success in job creation and the economy, with the Democrats cheering wildly while the Republicans withheld judgement. As we all know, the markets responded with largest decline in the stock market since 2003. The reality, of course, is no President really impacts the economy. I sat next to Lynn Fincher, the wife of Congressman Steve Fincher from Frog Jump Tennessee. She was a lovely woman and we had a most enjoyable conversation prior to the address. She was kind enough to assist me in finding my way back to the Longworth Office Building and in doing so I was able to meet her husband. He, too, was  a wonderful man and the people of Tennessee should be proud to have a person such as Congressman Fincher represent them.

As the address ended, it was difficult to hear above the roar of the members of Congress,  but I believe the President affirmed that the State of the Union is strong. Indeed. Our country is very strong.


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