The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

All members of Congress but no guests invited to Biden’s first State of the Union address

President Biden is flanked by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) after arriving on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6. Biden will give his State of the Union address to Congress on March 1. (Susan Walsh/AP)

All members of Congress but no guests will be invited to attend when President Biden delivers the State of the Union address March 1 at the U.S. Capitol, a sign of ongoing precautions being taken because of the pandemic.

Members of Congress will be seated in both the floor and the gallery sections of the House, according to a letter sent to lawmakers Thursday from the House sergeant-at-arms. All attendees must report a negative PCR coronavirus test within one day of the speech, remain socially distanced and wear an approved KN95 or N95 face mask while in the Capitol.

According to the letter, it is “strongly recommended” but not required that attendees be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus and have received a booster shot.

The speech will be Biden’s first State of the Union address since he was elected. Last April, Biden addressed a joint session of Congress in an event that was even more restricted, owing to pandemic precautions and security concerns after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Only about 200 people were allowed in the House chamber last year during Biden’s joint address.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said this month that her goal would be to invite every member of Congress to this year’s State of the Union address, noting that members had wanted a return to “fuller participation” in the speech.

“With vaccinations and so much happening since last year, I think the people are ready to pivot in a way that shows to the American people we largely have been vaccinated here,” Pelosi said then. “We think that many more people can participate. But it’s not anything that we can do. It’s up to the Capitol physician.”