(WASHINGTON) — Following weeks of speculation about what President Joe Biden’s State of the Union Address on March 1 would look like — amid pandemic safety concerns — all members of Congress have been invited to attend the speech this year, signaling a softening of restrictions.
The House sergeant-at-arms announced in a memo on Thursday that all 535 members of the House and Senate could safely gather in the House chamber on March 1 as pandemic restrictions continue to ease across the country.
The decision to extend the invitation to all members of Congress was made in consultation with the Capitol’s Office of the Attending Physician, according to the memo.
Per the memo, anyone attending the address in person will be required to present a negative PCR test, wear a K/N95 mask, and fill out a health attestation form. Social distancing will still be required. Boosters are “strongly recommended.” Members will also not be permitted to bring guests, as is usually customary in the pre-COVID era.
The memo also noted: “failure to follow guidelines or removal of the mask in the House Chamber will result in the attendee’s removal from the event and/or fines.”
Biden made a speech to a limited audience due to Covid concerns in April 2021. At the time, the chamber was filled to approximately only 20% capacity, and Republicans largely skipped the event altogether.
Typically, there are more than 1,600 people attending presidential speeches. Last year, there were roughly only 200 people in the chamber.
It’s unclear how many, if any, Republicans will attend the address in person this year.
Republicans have loudly complained about the ongoing mask mandate that still exists for anyone entering the House chamber.
Several Republican lawmakers including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Thomas Massie of Kentucky have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for refusing to wear masks on the House floor but have characterized the rebukes as badges of honor.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier this month expressed her desire to see a more traditional State of the Union this year.
“There’s a great interest on the part of members to have more full — fuller participation in the State of the Union,” she said.
“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,” she said. “We think that many more people can participate.”
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