These lawmakers say they won't attend Biden's address to Congress
WASHINGTON - Seating for President Joe Biden’s first joint address to Congress will be very limited Wednesday night, so many lawmakers will be skipping the event.
Instead of 1,600 people crowded into the House chamber for a regular State of the Union address, just 200 people will be attending Biden’s first marquee event before Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday.
Some lawmakers have balked at the coronavirus restrictions and social distancing mandates put in place, especially since the 535 members of Congress have long had access to vaccinations.
Meanwhile, other GOP lawmakers are frustrated that Pelosi invited Biden to speak when the House was out of session and they already made plans for events in their home districts.
Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., are among the GOP senators who will not be attending.
Cotton and Hawley said they are deferring to the more senior members of the Senate given the limited space constraints, whereas Rubio also raised concerns about the coronavirus rules.
"I will not be attending, and one of the reasons why is the ticket numbers have been really limited; they’re making people sit in the gallery," Rubio told "Fox and Friends" Tuesday.
The Florida senator also called out inconsistencies with the enforcement of coronavirus restrictions at the Capitol, dubbing it "silly season."
"It’s interesting -- when it came to coming together to impeach Donald Trump for the second time after he was out of office, they put 100 senators in the same room sitting just inches apart for hours at a time over five or six days," Rubio said. "Apparently COVID was not an issue then. But now, of course, for something like this we can't have that many people in the room sitting next to each other. So it’s kind of silly season here."
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the top GOP leaders in Congress, will be attending Biden's speech, but Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., will not be in Washington due to prescheduled political travel, according to the Republican Whip’s office.
The Senate is in session in D.C. this week. But the House is not, so members wishing to attend will have to make special arrangements to travel back to the Capitol.
House Republicans were already gathered in Florida for a retreat that was to end Tuesday, but several members, including Florida GOP Reps. Kat Cammack and Byron Donalds, said they already had planned events in their district that they don’t want to cancel to travel to attend Biden’s address.
"Speaker Pelosi and the Administration planned this event on an off-session day, and I had prior commitments in the state of Florida," Donalds told Fox News in a statement. "Also, in an effort to reduce my carbon footprint, I think it would be environmentally irresponsible for me or my colleagues to fly all the way to our nation’s Capital only to hear a speech."
Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers had earlier urged Pelosi to reschedule Biden’s address to when the House was in session and to lift the coronavirus caps so more members could attend.
"Scheduling this address for a day when the House is not in session and prohibiting Members of Congress from attending would be unprecedented and undermine the very spirit of our representative, constitutional Republic," the GOP lawmakers wrote.
The letter was authored by Republican Reps. Claudia Tenney of New York, Tom McClintock of California, Randy Weber of Texas, Russ Fulcher of Idaho, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, Greg Steube of Florida, Van Taylor of Texas, Buddy Carter of Georgia and Bill Johnson of Ohio.
Pelosi downplayed concerns Tuesday on whether the character of the traditional event will be altered when Biden speaks to only a small portion of Congress.
"It will be its own character, it will be its own wonderful character, no not worried at all," Pelosi told reporters. "We went from 1,600 people to 200 people. That is a different dynamic, but it has its own worth."
Unlike other joint addresses when senators and House members were all crammed together in the House chamber, the limited number of lawmakers will be spread across the House floor and into the balcony where guests are typically seated. No congressional guests are allowed this year.
It was up to the Democratic and GOP leaders in both the House and Senate to divvy up the limited supply of tickets.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.; Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla.; Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala.; and Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., are among the Republicans who scored seats and plan to attend Wednesday, according to their offices.