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Democrats are opting to invite “virtual guests” to President Joe Biden’s first joint address to Congress on Wednesday evening due to the limited number of people being permitted into the House chamber.
While lawmakers are usually permitted to bring a guest to the annual speech, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has opted to dramatically cap the number of people allowed to attend the event in person, citing the pandemic for this year’s approach.
First lady Jill Biden, who will not have a special box in the chamber for guests as is tradition, released her list of virtual guests which look to shine a spotlight on parts of the administration’s agenda that the president is expected to touch on in the address.
Her guest list includes DACA recipient Javier Quiroz Castro, who is now a registered nurse; Maria-Isabel Ballivian, who runs a child development center in the Virgina suburbs; Tatiana Washington, a gun-control advocate; Stella Keating, the first transgender teen to testify before the Senate; and Theron Rutyna, who is working to get broadband to Tribal lands in Wisconsin.
While the Speaker of the House is usually allotted a box to invited guests, Pelosi announced Kenneth Tai, the chief health officer at a community health center in San Francisco, will be her guest attending remotely.
The virtual attendees will be invited to a “virtual reception” ahead of the event
“This week, we’ve asked members to join us in inviting a virtual guest for the president’s speech Wednesday night,” said DPCC Chair Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) told Politico. “We will each have virtual guests. I will have two virtual guests with me that have benefited from what we’ve done on food assistance.”
Just 200 people will be allowed in the room with members spaced out for social distancing purposes — a sharp contrast to previous years where more than 1,000 people are in attendance of the event.
“It will be its own character,” Pelosi said. “We went from 1,600 people to 200 people. “That is a different dynamic, but it has its own worth.”
While Democrats have lauded the move to limit the numbers, a number of top Republicans argued the restrictions are unnecessary with the majority of lawmakers having been vaccinated and on the chamber floor with each other on a regular basis.
“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,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer told The Post this week.