Congressional authorities have stepped up security and drastically limited the number of people who will be in attendance for President Joe Biden’s first speech to both houses of Congress on Wednesday (28), preparing the Capitol for the long-awaited speech under restrictions imposed by a pandemic and the high level of risk since the deadly attack of January 6.
Within the cavernous precincts of the House of Representatives, Biden will only speak to 200 people instead of the usual 1,600, in accordance with special protocols for public safety and health.
Only a small portion of MPs and Senators – some chosen by lot, others on a first come, first served basis – received invitations, and only a small group of customary dignitaries from other sectors of government will be invited. present.
The president, Justice John Roberts, will be the only Supreme Court member present, according to a spokesperson for the court. Instead of all the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, there will be only General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
Deprived of their traditional privilege of accompanying a guest’s speech to the Chamber’s gallery, some lawmakers have resorted to remote invitations. The mayor’s special guest, Nancy Pelosi, is a doctor who runs a community health center for Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in her hometown of San Francisco. California Democratic Congresswoman Sara Jacobs has invited an employee who looks after the children.
The Capitol itself will be more empty than it has ever been for the floor. The House Sergeant-at-Arms asked everyone not to have invitations to the speech, including parliamentarians, to leave the Capitol at 5 p.m. Wednesday (28), a few hours before Biden’s scheduled arrival .
The speech was postponed for several months from the originally scheduled date, as the White House and congressional leaders addressed public health and safety concerns in the first few weeks of Biden’s presidency.
Yogananda Pittman, acting chief of police at the Capitol, said in February that the militias involved in the Jan.6 attack wanted to blow up the Capitol and kill parliamentarians in Biden’s first official speech to Congress.
In the absence of the majority of cabinet members, there will be no need for another customary act: the disclosure made annually, usually a few minutes before the speech, of the so-called “designated survivor” – an authority who is instructed not to appear on Capitol Hill. The idea is that in the event that a catastrophic attack is launched on the compound, the survival of that person in charge of the government is guaranteed.
The Statues Hall, usually a confusing and noisy meeting place where crowds of journalists gather to attempt to interview parliamentarians after the speech to hear their reactions, this year will be empty and silent.
Nancy Pelosi said she was confident the security measures will protect the Capitol from both extremists and those who attacked the building in January and from the coronavirus, which continues to kill hundreds of people.
She said she had received a “very direct briefing” from House Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker and Yogananda Pittman on the preparations they are making.
“I would have liked to have received this briefing before Jan. 6,” Pelosi said, referring to the attack launched on Capitol Hill by a pro-Trump mob that invaded police and left around 140 officers injured. “We wanted to know all the details.”
Capitol Police said they would close sections of 17 streets to help keep the building safe before and during Biden’s speech.
Chuck Schumer, a Democratic majority leader in the Senate, was also briefed and reportedly passed on the detailed precautions taken to his caucus during a lunchtime meeting.
“I feel very safe on Capitol Hill,” Schumer said. “I told my colleagues. They did a great job. There are many different levels of security. “
The Capitol continues to operate under an intensified security program. Visitor access has been restricted since the spring of last year due to the virus. And after January 6, security officials summoned the National Guard and erected protective fences around the building.
Some of those fences were just starting to be removed when a man this month threw his car at two police officers in the compound, killing one who was on guard.
“In the Capitol complex, the level of existential threats to the Capitol and its surrounding areas continues to increase,” Pittman told a Senate committee last week.
Capitol Police saw an almost 65% increase in threats to lawmakers in the first four months of 2021, compared to the same period last year, according to Pittman. She said the total number of threats had doubled since 2017 and that the vast majority of suspects resided outside the capital region.
Capitol Police have requested an additional grant of over $ 100 million (R $ 534 million) to address security concerns. The Senate Sergeant-at-Arms is asking for a $ 50 million (R $ 267 million) increase in his budget.
Senators said Thursday (22) that they were confident the Capitol would be safe, but not everyone had a seat to attend the event, which was open only to those who received an invitation.
“I did not win a golden invitation,” said Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, explaining that her name had not been drawn. “I thank the courageous Capitol Police and our National Guard who are present here. They will do anything and a little more to make sure we are protected. “
The senator’s team later said they had received an invitation from a waiting list.
Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump, said he did not intend to attend the speech, although he won an invitation. He said he would give his invitation to someone “who wants to go more” than him.
But Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from North Carolina, said he would attend the speech in person, partly out of respect for the presidency and partly “because he has nothing else to do.”
“I want to hear from the president,” Graham said. “I think we should go, out of respect for the presidency and him.”