President Joe Biden is expected to deliver his first formal State of the Union address before Congress on March 1, but there may hardly be anybody in the Capitol building for him to deliver that speech to.
Unconfirmed reports suggest that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) may drastically limit the number of individuals, including members of the House, who are allowed to be present in the House chamber for the event, The Washington Times reported.
The purported reason for Pelosi’s strict limitations on attendance and capacity is concern over the omicron variant of COVID-19 and the fact that at least 24 lawmakers on Capitol Hill have caught the virus over the past month.
SOTU capacity restrictions under consideration
Axios was the first to report in a “scoop” that, according to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Speaker Pelosi was considering limiting attendance at President Biden’s address to just 25 House members from each party.
Pelosi’s office told the outlet that no final decision had been made just yet and a spokesperson said that the Speaker’s Office “will work closely with the Office of the Attending Physician to accommodate as many Member requests as safely possible.”
The “scoop” came via two unnamed sources said to have been present in the room when McCarthy informed his House Republican leadership team of what Pelosi was thinking about doing in terms of attendance at the State of the Union address.
GOP not happy with possible limitations
The Republican leaders were described as being “frustrated” by Pelosi’s purported move and McCarthy is said to have quipped something along the lines of Democratic members routinely flying across the country on planes packed with more people than Pelosi was considering allowing in the House chamber.
The Times noted that this wouldn’t be the first time that House capacity would be limited for a presidential speech, as reduced attendance had been imposed by Speaker Pelosi on President Biden’s Joint Address to Congress a few months after taking office last year.
Only about 200 lawmakers and officials had been permitted to attend, including 55 House Democrats, 25 House Republicans, 35 Senate Democrats, and 25 Senate Republicans, according to Axios.
Pelosi set late date of March 1 for Biden SOTU
The New York Post had reported on Jan. 7 that Speaker Pelosi had issued a formal invitation for President Biden to deliver his first State of the Union address on March 1.
Interestingly, this will be the latest State of the Union address ever delivered, at least since the tenure of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as the constitutionally-required address is typically held in late January or early February.
No clear reason for the delayed date was mentioned at that time, though the subsequent report about the speaker’s considered capacity limitations and pandemic-related concerns is most likely it.