Joe Biden won’t get a full House for his first speech to Congress.
Only about 200 lawmakers will be allowed into the House chamber for Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress next week because of coronavirus concerns, according to a U.S. Capitol official familiar with planning for the event.
The roughly 200 representatives and senators in attendance for Biden’s Wednesday address can’t bring along guests, either, the official said.
Between the House and Senate, there are 529 members of Congress. Caucus leaders in each chamber will pick which members can attend the speech in-person, the official said.
The official also noted that there will be spillover seating available in the House gallery.
Accommodations for Biden’s speech may be made easier by the fact that some GOP lawmakers have said they don’t plan to attend.
Other Republicans are upset by the fact that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whose office is in charge of planning for the event, won’t allow a full audience.
“In our nation’s history, it is unprecedented to convene a joint session of Congress such as this without extending an invitation to all Members of Congress,” upstate New York Rep. Claudia Tenney wrote in a letter to Pelosi this week. “With the right precautions and social distancing measures a space designed to accommodate almost 1,000 individuals can operate at about 50 percent capacity to safely accommodate all members of the House and Senate who attend.”
Biden waited unusually long to hold his first address to Congress, in part because of complications related to the pandemic.
White House officials say Biden will focus the speech on his “American Families Plan,” which is expected to ask Congress to expand a range of social programs, like paid family leave, childcare, community college and certain tax credits benefiting working-class parents. The plan is expected to cost more $1 trillion and be bankrolled by levying heftier taxes on the rich.
The plan is unlikely to gain support from Republicans, who are already complaining about the cost of Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure spending proposal.
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