It will be George W. Bush's first big speech since becoming president; it will be to both houses of Congress; it will be televised to the nation; it will try to convince everyone about his policy plans. But is it a State of the Union message?
No. Not all presidential speeches before a joint session of Congress are State of the Union addresses. In this case, the Bush administration has chosen to call the speech a "budget address," timed to coincide with the submission of the president's budget for the next fiscal year.
There is no statutory requirement that a newly elected president give a State of the Union message. The Constitution, in Article II, Section 3 does mandate that the president "shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." It was George Washington who began the tradition of annual addresses with his State of the Union on Jan. 8, 1790. Both Washington and John Adams delivered theirs in direct addresses to Congress. But Thomas Jefferson simply sent a written message, a practice that presidents followed until Woodrow Wilson in 1913 resumed making the address in person. There is also no requirement that a president point out heroes in the balcony. That tradition was started in 1982 by Ronald Reagan, when he recognized Lenny Skutnik, who jumped into the icy Potomac River to rescue passengers from a plane crash.
Look for Bush's first State of the Union in early 2002.
Explainer thanks Robert Dallek of Boston University, Martin Medhurst of Texas A&M University, and reader Chris McKenzie for suggesting the question.