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White House press secretary Jen Psaki provided a bleak preview of President Biden’s first address to Congress taking place Wednesday, saying the invite-only event “will look very different” than what the American people are used to seeing.
“It will look very different for people who are watching at home, who are used to seeing — they may not even know they’re used to seeing this — but they’re used to seeing a full Senate chamber … full members of Congress,” Psaki said at Monday’s daily briefing.
“They’re used to seeing guests for all of these members of Congress. They’re used to seeing — which is always an important part of the speech — a first lady’s box that’s full of incredible people who are inspiring and inspiring stories,” she said.
“And none of that will be a part of the speech in the same way that people have seen in the past,” Psaki continued.
Despite the scaled-down event, she said Biden will still have the opportunity to tout his administration’s agenda directly to the American people at home.
“But from his vantage point, it’s still an opportunity to speak directly to the American people about the progress that’s been made, the work that’s still ahead,” she said, adding that he will talk about his American Families Plan and outline some of his other priorities.
Not all members of the House and Senate will be able to attend.
To allow for social distancing, invitations are required.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is overseeing invitations for House Democrats, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is deciding for House Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is picking which Senate Democrats can attend and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is choosing which Senate Republicans get to attend.
Further complicating attendance is the fact that the address is scheduled for when the Senate is in session, but the House is out, meaning many lawmakers will be back in their home districts.
A number of House Republicans said they won’t be in the chamber Wednesday night, and will be giving their tickets to freshman members who have never had the opportunity to attend.
“No, I won’t be there. Unfortunately, the Democrats, I think this is the Speaker, I think she’s the one who determines how many people go. She gave Kevin McCarthy 25 tickets,” Rep. Tom Emmer said, telling The Post that he will give his ticket to a freshman lawmaker.
“They are only letting like 25 Republicans in the chamber so a lot of the freshmen want to go, and they haven’t been before,” Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who is also giving his ticket to a freshman, told reporters. “So there are not many of us that are going to be able to go because they’re limiting it pretty dramatically.”
Emmer (R-Minn.) said only 200 people will be allowed in — despite 75 percent of House members being vaccinated.
“We could have almost 300 people on the floor of the House on Friday afternoon, waiting to take the last vote so they can catch a plane out, but we can’t have that when the president comes to speak,” he said.
Along with the infrastructure plan, Psaki said the president will talk about his work with Congress on police reform and expanding access to affordable health care.
“So there will be a range of priorities he will also mention in his speech. But he’s working closely with his speech writers on it, but also with policy advisers and the policy teams on finalizing the components that will be in the speech,” she added.
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