President Joe Biden may have a full house of lawmakers when he delivers his first State of the Union address on March 1.
House Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker issued a memo Thursday saying that all members of Congress are invited to attend the address in person, as COVID-19 protocols continue to ease and the threat posed by the omicron variant subsides.
Mayor Muriel Bowser intends to let the indoor mask mandate in Washington, D.C., expire on Feb. 28, but the protocols for the State of the Union will continue to have such a requirement.
Members will not be bringing individual guests, and they will need to be spread out both on the floor and in the galleries.
And attendees, including members of Congress, “[m]ust continuously wear an issued, FDA-authorized, KN95 or N95 mask that completely covers the nose and mouth,” according to Walker’s memo. The House is also implementing a requirement for attendees to obtain a negative test result on Feb. 28. The RT-PCR tests will be conducted in the Capitol Visitor Center.
“Individuals will receive notification of their test result to the cell phone or portable device number they identify at the time of test center registration. Individuals will show this notification or email message in the process of obtaining their ticket for entry to the event,” Walker wrote.
COVID-19 vaccination, including booster shots, is being “strongly recommended.”
The announcement of the expanded eligibility for attendance came just after the Senate Democratic caucus huddled with White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain and other top Biden administration officials to discuss a variety of topics that included the State of the Union.
Although Biden addressed a joint session of Congress last year on April 28, such speeches by a recently inaugurated president are not referred to as a State of the Union address.
“Recent presidents starting with [Ronald Reagan], addressed a joint session of Congress shortly after their inaugurations but these messages are technically not considered to be ‘State of the Union’ addresses,” according to the American Presidency Project at UC Santa Barbara.