President Joe Biden will give an unofficial “State of the Union” address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, but unlike past presidents, he will deliver the speech in a nearly empty House chamber because of COVID-19 protocols.
Biden will give his “State of the Union” address to just 200 pre-screened individuals, almost exclusively members of Congress, rather than to all 535 members of Congress, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, members of the Supreme Court, his presidential cabinet, and a host of invited guests, as is typical.
“The exact number of attendees is not yet decided, but there will be little more than 200 people in the chamber for Biden’s speech, according to two House officials with knowledge of the plans. Lawmakers won’t be allowed to invite guests,” Business Insider reported this weekend.
“The House chamber has enough seats on its floor and in galleries to accommodate about 1,100 people, and its capacity can be further expanded with temporary seats and standing room, one official said. Normally, about every seat would be filled for a presidential address to a joint session, including all 535 members of Congress and their guests,” the outlet noted.
This year, only one member of the Supreme Court is expected to attend. Biden’s Cabinet will be absent from the speech.
White House staff, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last week, will be watching a lifestream.
“Most of our staff, if not all of our staff, will be watching virtually,” she told reporters. 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. But it will not look like or feel like, in many ways, what past joint addresses have.”
Typically, presidents use the State of the Union, or SOTU, to set out their agenda for the year, and Biden’s is expected to be no less ambitious than previous addresses. He will deliver the speech at the end of his first 100 days in office, as well, and is likely to present evidence that his “American Rescue Plan” — his massive, multi-trillion-dollar COVID-19 relief bill — is helping the economy to rebound. He is also likely to tout his administration’s success at achieving COVID-19 vaccination goals, though those goals were largely set during President Donald Trump’s term.
New presidents typically have just 18 months in office to enact the more pressing and controversial items on their agenda before the mid-term campaigns begin, and Biden is expected, Wednesday, to lay out an ambitious “infrastructure” plan that is expected to, again, cost in the trillions of dollars and could involve several tax hikes on both individuals and corporations.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) will deliver the Republican response to Biden’s speech. As is typical, he will deliver that response virtually.
The Biden White House likely hopes the speech will reignite American trust in the new administration. Although most presidents have high approval ratings during their first 100 days in office, Biden has struggled to keep his approval over 50%, according to recent polls. A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that Americans are particularly unsure about Biden’s handling of border issues, and would prefer he works with Republicans to handle immigration reform rather than try to press through legislation with just Democrat support.