WASHINGTON, D.C. — 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 and will limit the number of people inside the Capitol for the president’s first major indoor event since he took office on Jan. 20.
“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.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invited Biden to the chamber to “share your vision for addressing the challenges and opportunities of this historic moment.” Presidents typically don’t deliver a formal State of the Union address to Congress until their second year in office.
The joint session is designated as a “national special security event,” which clears the way for communication, funding and preparation between multiple agencies in Washington, including the Capitol Police, Pentagon, Homeland Security and District-area police. Other such events are the State of the Union, the Super Bowl and the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
Biden’s address comes as he completes his first 100 days in office. The address will provide him an opportunity to update the American public on his progress toward fulfilling his promises and make the case for the $2.3 trillion infrastructure package he unveiled earlier this month.
Security will be tight around the Capitol region for the event. National Guard troops, in place since the riot, are still in the area. Some security plans will be obvious: officers in uniforms, checkpoints, metal detectors, fencing. Some won’t. Capitol police said Monday that streets around the Capitol will be shut down two hours before the event.
Law enforcement officials never go into too much detail about security so would-be attackers aren’t tipped off. But Plati said they’ve taken into account recent events, and also have watched other major U.S. events, like the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis and the response to it.
“There are always opportunities to learn from these incidents, but the planning is comprehensive” and incorporates the possibility for mass civil unrest or other security concerns, Plati said.
“We continuously evaluate the intelligence with our partners and refine the plan; we look to make those refinements,” Plati said.