State of the Union isn’t all about the speech

 Television lighting technicians build sets inside Statuary Hall for post-speech interviews hours before U.S. President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Television lighting technicians build sets inside Statuary Hall for post-speech interviews hours before U.S. President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The main event on Capitol Hill on Tuesday is, of course, the president’s State of the Union address. But like the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, what was once a simple speech attended by members of Congress has morphed into an entire day of receptions, press conferences, lunches, and other events attended by lawmakers, their families and a guest list dotted with celebrities.

Hours before the speech was set to begin, there was a festive air in the Capitol, whose exterior was lit with brighter-than-usual spotlights perched atop buildings a few blocks away. Television crews put the finishing touches on their camera setups in Statuary Hall, lawmakers led tours around the darkened Rotunda, under the Capitol Dome. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) shepherded a small group through, pointing the way to the House chamber, where the entire Congress would gather later.

On the Senate side of the Capitol, caterers rolled carts, including one loaded with wine bottles, into the chamber’s ornate meeting rooms. Senators hold an annual bipartisan dinner for themselves and their spouses. Former Sen. Jeffrey Chiesa (R-N.J.) and his wife were among the first to arrive.

Network anchors, too, are busy throughout the day. They attend a pre-SOTU breakfast at the office of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and a lunch at the White House. Over those dueling meals, they’re presented with rival spin — and, apparently, fine food. FOX News’ Shep Smith did his annual on-air rhapsodizing over the menu served at the president’s house, even though it’s supposed to be an off-the-record confab (this year, it was a fine dry-aged Piedmontese beef).

And there’s plenty happening long after the president utters his last “…and God bless America. ” After the speech, lawmakers will mill in the packed Statuary Hall, delivering analysis to the cameras. At least four Republicans are slated to give responses. Reporters wondering what time they will make it home weren’t terribly reassured by this e-mail from an aide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas): “we’re holding time for Sen. Cruz to take post-SOTU press questions at approximately 11:25PM just outside Statuary Hall, towards the the rotunda.”

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.
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