WASHINGTON – The roar of applause that typically greets a new president entering the House chamber softened Wednesday to just a few hundred hands clapping as Joe Biden arrived to deliver his first joint address to Congress under strict coronavirus restrictions and tight security at the Capitol.
Usually an electrifying evening, this initial address from Biden was a more subdued affair, reflecting a country, and a Congress, only starting to emerge from the challenges of a lifetime.
Members of Congress took their seats, name cards spacing them out just a few to each row, some filling the visitor galleries because no guests were invited.
There was no crush of center-aisle lawmakers crowding to shake Biden’s hand, though he did fist-bump Chief Justice John Roberts and accept a hug from former rival Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator.
No coordinated splashy fashion statements as even members of Congress are partly working from home. Masks were required, along with a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination. Democrats outnumbered Republicans, who largely skipped the event.
Yet even with the diminished mood, one of the most striking parts of Biden’s address to Congress was his nod to the very House and Senate lawmakers who, even in their absence, will make or break the new administration’s ambitious agenda to rebuild America.
"Congress should act," Biden told them over and over again.
As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Biden's arrival, standing with Vice President Kamala Harris behind the president in a portrait of two women in power the country had never seen, it was a reminder that Congress will determine whether his sweeping $4 trillion proposals to invest in America and revive the role of government will come to pass.