Biden address to Congress to feature fewer attendees, no first lady’s box

When President Biden delivers an address to a joint session of Congress next week, only about 200 people will be allowed into the chamber and no House members or senators will be allowed to bring guests.

In a break with tradition, there will be no first lady’s box, which is often filled with guests of the first family. Most White House staffers are also expected to watch the event remotely.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday that first lady Jill Biden would not bring guests to Wednesday’s event. A spokesperson for the first lady later said that she will attend the speech in person.

“We’re determining how we can, of course, engage the public and ensure we highlight some of the incredible stories of people who have been helped by the president’s policies and proposals,” Psaki said. “But it will not look like or feel like, in many ways, what past joint addresses have.”

The rules are being put in place for health and safety reasons as the United States continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. Even as more and more Americans get vaccinated, Biden and congressional leaders continue to take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus as cases remain high in the country and to send a signal to the public that the fight against the virus isn’t over.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office is handling decisions on guests and health precautions.

Roughly 200 people will be allowed in the chamber in total, according to a Capitol official involved in the planning, though a final number has not been decided. House members and senators will be seated on the House floor and gallery to accommodate more people.

The event will also be designated a National Special Security Event, the official said, which means that it will include special security measures implemented by U.S. Secret Service.

The U.S. Capitol has been on a heightened security posture in the wake of the Jan. 6 assault, and security concerns are sure to factor into the decisions regarding Wednesday’s address.

Pelosi last week invited Biden to address a joint session on April 28, a date that will coincide with his 100th day in office. Most newly inaugurated presidents give their first address to Congress earlier, but Biden’s was delayed amid the ongoing pandemic as his administration raced to get more Americans vaccinated. Over 90 million U.S. adults have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, including Biden, many White House officials and members of Congress.

Biden is expected to use the address to lay out his families legislative proposal that will include funding for education and child care. Psaki said this week that Biden will also use the address to call for police reform and discuss his commitment to expanding health care.

The scaled-down version of the event is likely to somewhat mirror Biden’s inauguration in January, the footprint of which was significantly reduced in order to ensure the health and safety of those in attendance. Biden opted for a virtual inaugural parade and the number of attendees at the outdoor event was reduced.

Updated at 2:42 p.m.

Tags address Congress Coronavirus COVID-19 Jen Psaki Jill Biden Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Social distancing speech
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