An estimated 48 million people tuned in to watch President Donald Trump’s first address to a Joint Session of Congress – short of the 52.4M viewers who tuned in to watch President Obama’s shortly after he was sworn into office in 2009. Trump also tracked behind President Clinton’s 66.7 million who watched is first such address in 1993, back when live-streaming was not a “thing.”
While coverage varied by network, 11 aired live coverage from about 9 PM ET to 10:15 PM ET, Nielsen reported: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Univision, PBS, CNN, Fox Business Network, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and NBC Universo.
Fox News Channel accounted for nearly 11 million of those viewers for the speech that, practically speaking serves as a new president’s State of The Union Address. FNC 10.8M viewers bested usual frontrunner NBC, which logged about 9.14 million viewers. FNC also clobbered CNN’s 4M and MSNBC’s 2.7M in total viewers.
These so-called addresses before the Joint Session of Congress typically clock the biggest crowd that a president is going to snag during his one or two terms in office.
A notable exception: President George W. Bush’s first such address averaged 40M viewers; it got eclipsed by his 2003 State of the Union Address. More than 62 million viewers tuned in that night to hear Bush justify plans to invade Iraq with the claim Saddam Hussein had sought significant amount of uranium.
Trump is credited with “re-setting” his message with the speech, after his administration’s chaotic first 40 days.
Team Trump wanted to demonstrate he could give a speech in which he did not berate or demean anyone, President Obama’s White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest commented after the speech, while guesting on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show.
The speech was aimed at congressional Republicans who, 40 days into the new administration, “already are worried about the president in their own party,” Earnest continued, citing Trump’s “random tweet about Nordstrom” and the “botched rollout of executive orders” on the list of things causing concern to Republicans on the ballot in 2018.
“They have reason to be concerned; they know they’re on the ballot and Trump is not,” he said.
Trump started his speech by acknowledging the shooting death of an Indian man in a Kansas City bar last week, which Earnest said was the “right thing to do,” crediting Trump with using “the largest stage in American politics to do so.”