Someone in Google's public relations department did a good job public relatin' on Tuesday, sending out the State-of-the-Union-related questions that were cropping up most frequently on the search engine. Here are the answers, only like 12 hours late! You're welcome, America.
There are two sets of questions. The first appear to be from prior to the speech; the others, from during.
How long is the State of the Union?
Man, like endless, amirite? (taps microphone) (clears throat)
Well, anyway, it varies. In the past 50 years, the longest was Bill Clinton's last address in 2000, because it was Bill Clinton, who likes long speeches. (The second longest? Clinton in 1995.) Clinton's 2000 speech took about 89 minutes. The shortest was Ronald Reagan's in 1986, which went just over half an hour.
President Obama posted the entirety of his speech on Medium, which gives an estimate of how long it will take to read. It figured Obama's speech would take 28 minutes -- but that doesn't including time for applause and zingers.
Instead, it took twice as long, three seconds short of an hour, about halfway between the longest and shortest.
Or, to answer the question that was asked: 18 letters.
Who sits behind the president?
There's an easy answer and an accurate answer. We will provide both.
The easy answer is that the vice president and the speaker of the House traditionally sit behind the president during the address. That's not like a law or anything, it's just what's done. So that means that Joe Biden (the former) and John Boehner (the latter) were behind Obama on Tuesday, where they were the stars of the show.
But in wider shots of the room (what room? See below) you'll notice that there were other people sitting behind Obama, up in the balcony section. ("Gallery," if you're fancy.) That was the press. They all had Macs.
If you want to impress that uncle who's always sharing things on Facebook, point out that this shows the press had Obama's back.
Where is the State of the Union given?
On the floor of the House of Representatives in the Capitol building in the city of Washington, District of Columbia, on the North American continent of the planet Earth, third planet from the star referred to as the Sun in a distant arm of the Milky Way galaxy.
Who is not at the State of the Union tonight?
You weren't, clearly, if you're asking. I wasn't. My dog wasn't. In fact, the majority of Americans didn't attend.
If you instead were wondering which member of the Cabinet wasn't in attendance, thanks to having been given the role of "designated survivor," it was Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who presumably spent that just-under-an-hour enjoying photos of trains and highways and such.
Who announces the president?
We assume you mean, who is the person that yells, "ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States." That person is House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving. The sergeant at arms is a position elected by the members of the House, responsible for the security of the chamber. If a bear were to get into the Capitol, we assume it would also be Irving who ran onto the House floor. "Ladies and gentlemen," he'd shout, out of breath, "a bear!"
What is middle-class income?
You mean, what is the middle-class income. Google may forgive dropped articles, but The Washington Post will not.
The answer to the question is tricky. In October, former Arkansas senator Mark Pryor (D) said in a debate that middle-class incomes went up to $200,000, which earned some (justifiable) skepticism. Most people think that $200,000 -- more than a senator makes, even -- is outside the correct range.
But there's no actual correct number. For as frequently as it is invoked, there's no definition for "middle class." The median household income varies by state and household size, but was just under $52,000 in 2013. When polled that year by the Wall Street Journal, people figured that "middle class" was an income of $50,000 to $75,000. (Except the wealthiest people polled, a quarter of whom said "over $100,000" was middle class.)
So, in other words: "middle class income" means "the non-rich and people who aren't on government assistance" in the political vernacular.
Why are gas prices dropping?
This is a good question! One reason is that demand on the international market has decreased, and basic economics suggests that this would decrease prices. Part of that decrease in demand is thanks to the big spike in domestic production in the United States, largely a function of the hydrofracturing boom in the Upper Plains states, Texas and Oklahoma, but also linked to lower demand in Asia and improved fuel efficiency here.
Our Steven Mufson explored this topic more fully earlier this month. A key point that he made is that gas prices aren't down compared to some normal -- the high prices of the last few years were the abnormal condition. The reversion to the norm is in part due to oversupply, which is in part a function of Saudi Arabia increasing production, which it is doing, in part, to help lower prices.
In fact, there's no easy, brief answer to this question. So, let's move on to a question with an easy, brief answer.
How much does the president make?
$400,000 a year, plus $50,000 in expenses, $100,000 for travel, and $19,000 for entertainment. Plus he gets to use a house and cars and a plane. And a helicopter. And a vacation home.
When does Obama's term end?
The short answer is: Jan. 20, 2017. That's the day that the winner of the 2016 election is sworn in on the steps of the Capitol.
But what's the exact instant that a president becomes president? It's not clear that anyone's ever put a very fine point on it. Is it when the president-elect completes the oath? When he or she begins it? Not clear.
When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Lyndon Johnson wasn't sworn in until hours later, on the plane in Dallas. Who was president in between? No one? Johnson, but without being sworn in? Shortly after that tragedy, Congress introduced the 25th Amendment, ratified in 1967, which aimed to answer questions about succession, if not clarifying the philosophical question of when one becomes president.
It also created a process for a vice president to become acting president, which George H. W. Bush was the first to exercise, in 1985, for eight hours.
Oh, sorry. Yeah, Jan. 20, 2017 is the answer.
What does the speaker of the House do?
The speaker is the leader of the House of Representatives. That's about as specific as we can be. The Constitution establishes the position, but its role has changed over time. (The House historian offers a lengthy look at the evolution of the position, which gets into some of the nitty-gritty.)
The current speaker, John Boehner, leads the majority Republican caucus and acts as its representative. What does he do? He does this a lot.
Hope that answers all of your questions.