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Biden could be the first president to deliver a State of the Union address during a shutdown

By Betsy Klein and Haley Talbot, CNN

(CNN) — When President Joe Biden convenes a joint session of Congress, his Cabinet, military leaders and Supreme Court justices for his highly anticipated State of the Union address next week, it’s possible that the government could be partially shut down – and barreling toward a full shutdown.

Biden’s address, set for Thursday, March 7, falls between a pair of critical government funding deadlines. Lawmakers remain deeply divided over a plan to keep the lights on with the clock ticking and no clear resolution in sight.

A two-step plan passed in January extended funding through March 1 for parts of the federal government including military construction and the departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Energy. The rest of the government – anything not covered by the first step – is funded through March 8.

If Congress fails to pass a spending measure, Biden would deliver his address as about 20% of the federal government has run out of money – and on the eve of the second spending deadline, which could have massive implications for the US economy and national security. It would mark the first time a US president has delivered a State of the Union address during a government shutdown, partial or otherwise, and would reflect how an increasingly polarized Congress has repeatedly struggled to reach consensus on what was once a governing imperative.

While it’s legally and logistically feasible for a president to deliver a State of the Union address during a partial shutdown, there are considerations about the message that doing so would send at home and around the globe.

“This is the biggest speech in our country,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “It’s followed by leaders around the world. And if it’s happening during a shutdown, a time that is the poster child for American dysfunction, that will be a poor statement about all of the parties involved. America is not governing itself and, therefore, not leading in the world.”

The White House declined to respond to CNN’s inquiries into whether the president would consider delaying his remarks.

“The focus should be on House Republicans doing their job to keep the government open,” a White House official said.

But one conservative lawmaker is already calling on his leadership to rescind the invitation for political reasons.

“We need to use every single point of leverage … including the spending, and certainly including an address to the people from Congress,” Republican Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania said during a Monday appearance on Fox Business.

Biden, Perry added, “comes at the invitation of Congress. The Republicans are in charge of the House. There’s no reason that we need to invite him to get more propaganda.”

Perry’s messaging isn’t without precedent: During the government shutdown of 2019, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to then-President Donald Trump encouraging him to move his State of the Union address or deliver it in writing amid security concerns.

At the time, Pelosi noted the US Secret Service, which leads the security around the high-profile event, had not been funded for nearly a month. Pelosi later disinvited Trump from giving the address in the House chamber. Trump ultimately delivered the address upon the conclusion of the 35-day shutdown.

This time around, the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Secret Service, is not impacted by the first shutdown deadline and would function as normal. Funding for the legislative branch of government is also not affected by the first deadline.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, insisted Tuesday that Biden’s address would proceed as planned, telling CNN, “We are going to prevent a shutdown.”

But if lawmakers can’t reach an agreement, the primetime speech will offer Biden a political opportunity and a captive audience to ratchet up pressure. It will also offer a visual that could encapsulate the partisanship of the moment.

The lawmakers standing up and sitting down along party lines during the president’s address, MacGuineas said, mark “a perfect backdrop of that tension that led the government to a shutdown.”

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