Historical Highlights

A Parliamentary Inquiry Regarding A Presidential Address

January 13, 1915
A Parliamentary Inquiry Regarding A Presidential Address Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
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House Gallery Pass for the June 23, 1913, Joint Session in the House Chamber.
On this date, Representative Samuel W. Smith of Michigan put a parliamentary question to Speaker James “Champ” Clark of Missouri. “When the President of the United States appears before Congress to deliver a message,” he asked, “is it a proper form of procedure for a Member or Senator to ask him a question?” Smith had served since 1897, but was retiring at the end of the 63rd Congress (1913–1915) and had “many times been tempted to put a question to him [the President] when he has come before us,” he later confessed. Speaker Clark, having looked into the question before, found instances when a President appearing before Congress had indeed answered questions from Members. But Clark concluded “that the President would have the right to refuse to be interrogated, if he wanted to.” Representative Joseph Moore of Pennsylvania then asked if “a Member should rise in his place while the President is addressing the House and should say, ‘Mr. Speaker,’ would that be in order?” “Well, it might be in order,” Clark said, “but it would be exercising wretched taste.” As the rest of the chamber laughed and applauded, Representative William C. Adamson of Georgia added, “I think if either of the gentlemen ever attempted it, the same man would never attempt it the second time.” President Wilson had addressed Congress five times in both 1913 and in 1914, but curiously did not address Congress again after this debate until December 1915.

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