Behind the scenes: Gearing up for the State of the Union address
January 24th, 2014
05:33 PM ET
6 years ago

Behind the scenes: Gearing up for the State of the Union address

Washington (CNN) - When President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address Tuesday night, his words will have been months in the making. So will his chief speechwriter's beard.

Cody Keenan began sporting stubble in November, just before White House officials first met to discuss the big speech and plans to shave after Obama delivers his speech before Congress.

Administration officials began putting together ideas for the President's speech shortly after Thanksgiving. White House officials met with academics, policy experts, mayor, governors, business leaders from small and large companies, and members of Congress to seek their input.

Some of the most senior members of the President's staff have been involved in the process, including Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer.

In addition to giving reporters a behind-the-scenes peek at how the State of the Union address is crafted, the White House has also been trying to build momentum for Tuesday's address using social media.

In recent days, several members of the President's team, including Keenan and top Obama aide Valerie Jarrett, have used the hashtag "#InsideSOTU" on the White House Instagram account to share pictures of speech-planning meetings and even a draft of the speech blurred to render the remarks unreadable, while revealing Obama's copious scribbles and corrections.

And while the White House has yet to announce specific plans for the President's customary post-speech travel, Google has already invited their users to ask the President questions online as part of a Hangout Road Trip next Friday.

Also next week, one day after the State of the Union, the White House will host a virtual "Big Block of Cheese Day," a reference to the NBC show "West Wing" in which the fictional White House would hold meetings once a year with interest groups who didn't typically get such high-level access.

In the real-life version next week, White House officials are slated to answer questions from Americans all day using social media. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney taped a parody with "West Wing" stars Bradley Whitford and Joshua Malina to promote the event.

Planning for the State of the Union speech bookended the first family's holiday vacation. He met with his speechwriting and policy teams at the White House on December 20, before departing for Hawaii, and on January 5, his first day back, to share ideas he had over his break and get updates on their progress.

Keenan is responsible for writing the domestic policy portion of the address, which comprises the majority of the State of the Union. For assistance on the foreign policy portions of the speech, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes and Senior Presidential Speechwriter Terry Szuplat are heavily involved.

In the weeks before the big address, several drafts of the speech are passed between Keenan and his team, who work on the language during the day, and the President, who takes up the task at night.

For inspiration, the official said the President often turns to the 10 letters he reads from average Americans each day, even sharing some with his speechwriting team.

"This is who we're working for," the President reportedly told his team.

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Sniffit

    Uh oh, he's not holding a baby in that picture so clearly what he has to say won't be all that important or credible.

    January 24, 2014 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  2. Silence DoGood

    Uh oh, he's not holding a baby in that picture so clearly what he has to say won't be all that important or credible.
    GOP: posing with woman (distract from war an women) with baby (pro-life theocracy nod) to make a weak point.
    Obama: picture of him working at desk
    Does the GOP Want to look silly?

    January 24, 2014 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  3. Thomas

    Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodger's , the new improved Sarah Palin .

    January 24, 2014 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  4. Rick McDaniel

    More like gearing up for the liar's forum.

    January 24, 2014 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  5. Harold Read

    Can't wait till the ObamaBots swoon over Obama bragging about the unemployment rate being the lowest in five years. Of course it took the fact that we now have the lowest workforce participation in 35 years to get the lowered unemployment rate.
    Why work when Obama will give us everything for free?

    January 24, 2014 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |