WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden's first address to Congress is an invite-only affair, no guests allowed.
The restrictions for Wednesday's event are due to COVID-19 safety protocols, but will have the added security benefit of a limited number of people inside the Capitol for the president's first major indoor event since he took office just weeks after the Jan. 6 insurrection. Fencing is still up around the U.S. Capitol, and the National Guard is still there.
“Obviously the events of the 6th are poignant reminders of why we need to be vigilant,” said Michael Plati, the U.S. Secret Service special agent in charge who is leading security for the joint session. “But the standard of security remains the same.”
Congressional leadership extended the invitations, and anyone without one must leave the building by 5 p.m. Wednesday, though staff with Capitol offices and those credentialed by the Sergeant at Arms can remain in the building, according to a memo by Timothy Blodgett, the acting sergeant at arms. Official visitors are allowed only until 1 p.m. and they must be escorted into the Capitol from the barricades.
While senators are in Washington this week, the House is not in session, with most lawmakers working remotely. House Republicans are holding a private retreat in Florida and it’s doubtful many will rush back to attend.
Chief Justice John Roberts is the only member of the Supreme Court who was invited to Wednesday’s speech. He plans to attend, court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said.
One of the main issues on Jan. 6 was a lack of coordination between multiple agencies in the district, which won’t happen this time because those agencies have already been approved to work together and have been doing so for months, said Plati, who led security for the Jan. 20 inauguration that went off without any problems.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invited Biden to the chamber to “share your vision for addressing the challenges and opportunities of this historic moment.” Presidents don’t deliver a State of the Union address to Congress until their second year in office.