Lawmakers invite virtual guests to view Biden’s joint address from afar, too
One of the hallmarks of a president’s joint address to Congress is the guest list: in a typical year, the president and the first lady invite guests who they believe embody the political agenda and administration achievements, while lawmakers often choose plus-one to make political statements of their own.
With in-person participation being limited due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, most politicians will connect remotely as President Biden delivers his remarks Wednesday evening.
But whether or not they attend in person, many still honor people in their district by designating them as their virtual guests.
First Lady Jill Biden hosted a virtual ceremony to introduce her five guests, while many Democratic lawmakers announced their guests of honor in press releases leading up to the speech. Many come from communities and industries particularly affected by the pandemic and the relief efforts that followed, and many also highlight administrative priorities such as immigration, infrastructure and gun control.
The Senate and House Democratic Policy and Communications Committees stated in A declaration that their leaders are spearheading the effort to appoint virtual guests as a means of uplifting ordinary Americans who benefited from Biden’s first 100 days in office.
“While COVID-19 security protocols mean this year’s in-person attendance will be limited, DPCC leaders say appointing virtual guests is an important way for Democrats to honor hard-working men and women across the country fueling America’s recovery, ”they wrote. “Members will enhance the stories of their virtual guests in local media, share them online using the hashtag #HelpIsHere and honor their virtual guests in the Congressional Record.”
Republican lawmakers do not appear to have organized their own comparable campaign. In the past, members of Congress who are not in the president’s party have selected guests who signal a reprimand or reflect their own legislative priorities – such as when dozens of Democrats invited immigrants to former President Donald Trump. first address at a joint session of Congress in 2017.
One of the Republican guests at former President Barack Obama’s last State of the Union address in 2016 was Kim davis, the Kentucky County Clerk who went to jail for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The first lady met her guests – who include a DACA recipient who works as a nurse, a gun violence prevention advocate and a transgender teenager – in a virtual “visualization box” Wednesday afternoon. She said they personified the issues the president had strived to tackle in his first few months in office, from tackling the pandemic to defending LGBTQ rights to improving the ‘broadband access for students.
“It’s the challenges that shape your life, the things that keep you awake at night, and he knows you are counting on him for real solutions and that you can’t wait,” she says. “Every day when he goes to the Oval Office or to a meeting with his advisers, he takes you with him. Everything he does is for you.”
Leading Democrats spotlight the few who have been aided by the administration’s pandemic relief efforts.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., honored a Panamanian immigrant who was able to keep her four Dunkin ‘Donuts locations open with the help of the Paycheque Protection Program. The guest of the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is Dr Kenneth Tai, the health chief of a San Francisco community health center that focuses on low-income, Asian and Pacific Islander patients.
The list of virtual guests from other legislators is long and varied.
It includes a long time Postal service employee, a teenager from the Navajo nation who learned from a distance, a company owner who opened a restaurant during the pandemic, a doctor and pastor which obtained grants from the public health department for contact tracing and vaccine distribution efforts, the mayor from a town in New Jersey, a first year high school student who co-founded a hotline to help seniors get appointments for vaccines, and others essential workers.
They’ll all be watching from afar as Biden addresses a small crowd of House lawmakers.
You can follow NPR coverage of the Republican Speech and Response on NPR.org, the NPR One app, or your local member station.