Joe Biden will address a bunch of empty seats during his first speech to Congress

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

It is appropriate, really, that our empty suit of a president will deliver his first speech to Congress to a mostly empty chamber. Joe Biden will look out to a sea of empty seats, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. It makes one ponder – why is he even going through with the exercise?

Biden will speak to an in-person audience of only about 200 people. Traditionally, a joint address to Congress is delivered by a president in the first year of his term, at the invitation of the Speaker of the House. Next year, he will deliver a State of the Union address. Though a speech is not required, one has been delivered in person since Woodrow Wilson’s presidency in 1913. Presidents take advantage of a congressional audience to try to garner support for their agendas. This year, with the country so deeply divided, there is little hope that Biden will change anyone’s mind about anything. The address is being delivered late this year. Since 1934, it has been delivered to Congress in January or February. Slow Joe is just now getting around to it. He’s been pretty busy signing executive orders and actions, you know. And, his party is busy ramming through trillion-dollar legislation on purely party-line votes.

This year, because of the pandemic, a big show is being made of the fact that Biden and Pelosi will abide by mitigation mandates. The president will speak to a limited amount of people in person. Normally, the room is packed with members of Congress, members of the Supreme Court, cabinet members, and staffers. Guests are invited by the president, the first lady, and members of Congress. The room is crowded. The House chamber can accommodate about 1,100 people. Additional capacity can be expanded with temporary seats and standing room. So, with only 200 people there – by invitation only – the room may as well be empty.

This is all theatre. There is no reason for any of the lawmakers to skip the event, other than an aversion to sitting through a long rambling political speech mumbled by a feeble old man. The lawmakers have been vaccinated by this point. So have the president, the first lady, the vice-president, and Speaker Pelosi. They could skip inviting guests if there is a question about their vaccinations, but it is simply silly to make a big deal about limiting the size of Biden’s audience and blaming it on the pandemic. If a feel-good mitigation measure is needed, mandate that all of the attendees wear a face mask. That is supposed to be mandatory on the floor of the House now anyway. Joe Biden standing up and speaking, socially distanced from his audience, does not need to wear a mask so it will be interesting to see if he goes through with that. This is just like the embarrassing story of Biden wearing a face mask during a Zoom call with world leaders, all of whom were not masked, and rightly so. Who wears a face mask during a conference call?

The White House released a little information on who would attend and who would not.

This year, there will be a single representative of the U.S. Supreme Court on hand, and as of Friday morning, there were no plans for any Biden cabinet members to attend. First lady Jill Biden’s office didn’t immediately reply to a question about whether she’ll be in the chamber on Wednesday.

“Most of our staff, if not all of our staff, will be watching virtually,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday. She said she was unsure whether Jill Biden would attend, but that the first lady would not have “the traditional box” of seats in the gallery.

“We’re determining how we can, of course, engage the public and ensure we highlight some of the incredible stories of people who have be helped by the president’s policies and proposals,” Psaki said. “But it will not look like or feel like, in many ways, what past joint addresses have.”

She said it will be up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to decide whether audience members at the speech must be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The Party of Science has lost its mind, to put it bluntly. I don’t understand why this administration keeps shooting itself in the foot over pandemic mitigation. Don’t they realize that the message Biden and his staff keep sending to people hesitant to be vaccinated is that even after they are jabbed, masks and social distancing will remain in place? It makes them think, why should I get the vaccination if my life is still shut down? What it tells us is that the administration wants to keep everyone on edge and therefore able to continue its authoritarian reign in everyday life. There is no reason for a fully vaccinated group of people to go through this charade. Common sense cautiousness is legitimate by responsible people. When around unvaccinated people, wear a mask and social distance until we attain herd immunity. Mitigation theatrics has to be pointed out and criticized.

Especially hard hit will be Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, known for showing up hours in advance in order to get an aisle seat. She is always shown on camera as she gets the attention of the president.

Some of the lawmakers who will attend will not be permitted in seats on the House floor, and instead will be assigned to areas in the gallery above for social distancing. Only about 20 members of the media will be permitted to physically attend.

Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas — known for typically arriving in the chamber hours before a presidential address to get an aisle seat and a chance to greet the president first-hand — said she was waiting for details on who can attend.

As has been the practice for the past two decades, the joint session has been officially designated a National Special Security Event, giving the Secret Service lead-agency status in coordinating, planning and exercising security.

Special credentialing procedures for attendees, as well as Covid testing or proof-of-vaccination requirements, are to be part of the run-up to the event.

This is all nonsense and should be discouraged. If Joe Biden is so fragile that he can’t perform his normal duties and speak before a vaccinated crowd of people, he needs to just stay at the White House and deliver a speech to a camera. Spare us the phony dramatics.