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Highlights from Biden's first address to joint session of Congress

President Joe Biden addressed Congress at the Capitol on Wednesday night, saying, "America is on the move again."
Illustration of President Joe BIden, Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with the Capitol behind them.
Watch live: Special coverage of Biden's address to CongressChelsea Stahl / NBC News

President Joe Biden delivered his first joint address to Congress on Wednesday, outlining his vision for the country and speaking to what he sees as his administration's initial accomplishments as he approaches 100 days in office.

Biden told Congress that it must that "prove democracy still works" and that it "can deliver for the people," according to excerpts released by the White House before the speech.

The address, which lasted an hour and five minutes, was held in the House chamber and due to security concerns following the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and Covid-19 safety measures, only about 200 people were in attendance.

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-'Help is here': 100 days of the Biden doctrine

-Timeline of President Biden's first days in office

Limited number of lawmakers to attend Biden's address

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433d ago / 10:36 PM UTC

A limited number of lawmakers will be in the audience at Biden's first address to a joint session of Congress because of Covid-19 restrictions. 

A final determination of the number of attendees has not been made yet, but around 200 people total are likely to be in the House Chamber. For context, about 1,600 people are usually packed into the chamber for a joint session.

Both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., plan to attend, according to their offices. The total number of House Democrats and Republicans attending has not been disclosed, but it is estimated to be 25 from each side, including House caucus chairs. Here's a list of senators indicating they will attend, according to an NBC News tally:

Democratic senators

Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin), Michael Bennet (Colorado), Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut), Ben Cardin (Maryland), Tom Carper (Delaware), Bob Casey (Pennsylvania), Chris Coons (Delaware), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nevada), Dick Durbin (Illinois), Dianne Feinstein (California), Kirsten Gillibrand (New York), Maggie Hasan (New Hampshire), Martin Heinrich (New Mexico), John Hickenlooper (Colorado), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota), Patrick Leahy (Vermont), Joe Manchin (West Virginia), Ed Markey (Massachusetts), Bob Menendez (New Jersey), Jeff Merkley (Oregon), Jon Ossoff (Georgia), Alex Padilla (California), Jack Reed (Rhode Island), Jacky Rosen (Nevada), Bernie Sanders (Vermont), Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire), Tina Smith (Minnesota), Debbie Stabenow (Michigan), Chris Van Hollen (Maryland), Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) and Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island). 

GOP senators 

John Barrasso (Wyoming), Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee), Roy Blunt (Missouri), Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia), Ted Cruz (Texas), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Deb Fischer (Nebraska), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Bill Hagerty (Tennessee), John Hoeven (North Dakota), Cindy Hyde-Smith (Mississippi), John Kennedy (Louisiana), Roger Marshall (Kansas), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman (Ohio), Jim Risch (Idaho), Mitt Romney (Utah), Rick Scott (Florida), Dan Sullivan (Alaska), John Thune (South Dakota), Tommy Tuberville (Alabama) and, likely, Todd Young (Alaska). 

433d ago / 10:34 PM UTC

Inside the Capitol ahead of Biden's speech, stark differences from past years

433d ago / 10:30 PM UTC

Heightened security and social distancing have caused Biden's address to look and feel very different. The event is normally attended by over 1,000 people — this year, just 200 will be in the chamber.

  • The chamber itself looks completely different from past years. Chairs that have white papers sitting on them are blocked because of Covid-19 restrictions.
  • Every seat where a guest will be has a printed placard on top of it to show the assigned seats.
  • Security screening at the Capitol is extraordinarily tight — even for members of the House. In the past, members of Congress haven't had to go through security screening to attend joint addresses or State of the Union speeches — although it's consistent with the new rules of the House, which post-Jan. 6 require magnetometer screenings before people go onto the House floor.
  • House members also have to provide proof of vaccinations or negative Covid-19 tests to attend. Again, this is very unusual in a building that typically gives every prerogative to members of Congress. (NBC News has not yet been able to confirm whether senators are also being subjected to health and security screening; most members of the Senate have been vaccinated.) 
  • Staffers and security personnel are lined up waiting to go through health screening; members are being screened at different locations. The goal is to prevent crowding around the House floor.
  • Under normal circumstances, 1,600 people are in the chamber, and the hallways after the speech are packed. This year, just 200 people will be in the chamber. The Capitol itself feels like a ghost town in comparison to past addresses, although there are more people inside here than I think I've seen since the pandemic started.

Major focus of speech will be on racial justice

433d ago / 10:02 PM UTC

Even as most of the White House discussion this week has been about Biden's economic agenda, officials said viewers should expect racial justice, and specifically police reform, to be front and center.

Biden's first 100 days have been dominated by his administration's response to the coronavirus, which was also the primary focus of his campaign last year. But closely behind that was what he has said is a national reckoning over racial justice, and officials said he will discuss the moment that animated so much of that movement less than a year ago: the murder of George Floyd.

The connection Biden made with the Floyd family will be the centerpiece of that part of his speech, with Biden invoking the words of Floyd's daughter when he met her last summer: "Daddy changed the world." And he plans to make what an official said would be an "effusive push" for the legislation that bears Floyd's name, hoping to add momentum to bipartisan negotiations to push the House-passed bill through the Senate.

Click here for more on what to watch for in tonight's address. 

What to watch for in Biden's first address to Congress

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433d ago / 9:54 PM UTC

When President Joe Biden marks his 99th day in office by giving his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, he will lay out his goals for his next 100 days and beyond in front of a socially distanced chamber that will look starkly different from the one that greeted his predecessors.

And few know the night's usual scene better than Biden. After six full Senate terms and two as vice president, it's possible that no president has addressed Congress with more experience as a member of the audience: It has been 47 years since he sat in the House chamber for his first State of the Union address, listening to President Richard Nixon tell lawmakers, "One year of Watergate is enough."

Biden is expected to stick with the message he has been hammering away at for more than a year, focusing on vaccinations, infrastructure and child care — topics that have polled well with both Republicans and Democrats.

Click here for the full story.

In GOP response to Biden, Tim Scott to credit Trump for receding pandemic

433d ago / 9:52 PM UTC

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., will tout the pre-coronavirus economy and credit the Trump administration for the pandemic's receding in the Republican Party's official response to his speech to Congress.

"This administration inherited a tide that had already turned. The coronavirus is on the run!" Scott will say, according to excerpts of his prepared speech. "Thanks to Operation Warp Speed and the Trump administration, our country is flooded with safe and effective vaccines."

Scott will say the pre-Covid-19 era was the "most inclusive economy in my lifetime," which he will attribute to Republican policies, including tax cuts and criminal justice reform.

"Our best future won't come from Washington schemes or socialist dreams. It will come from you — the American people," he will say, according to the excerpts.

McConnell: Curious to hear how Biden 'squares his rhetoric with the administration's actions'

433d ago / 9:50 PM UTC

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., spoke on the Senate floor this morning ahead of President Biden's joint address to Congress tonight, saying, "I'll be curious to hear how the president tries to square his rhetoric with the administration's actions over the past 100 days."

McConnell hammered the administration over immigration to climate to troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. "Over a few short months, the Biden administration seems to have given up on selling actual unity in favor of catnip for their liberal base, covered with a hefty coat of false advertising."

"But it's not too late," McConnell stressed. "This White House can shake off its daydreams of a sweeping socialist legacy that will never happen in the United States. ... That is what the American people want."

433d ago / 9:41 PM UTC

White House releases speech excerpts; Biden will ask Congress to turn 'crisis into opportunity'

433d ago / 9:39 PM UTC

President Joe Biden will tell Congress on Wednesday night that it must that "prove democracy still works" and that it "can deliver for the people," according to excerpts released by the White House before the speech.

"Now — after just 100 days — I can report to the nation: America is on the move again. Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength," he will say, according to the excerpts.

Biden will sell his $2.25 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan as one that would create "millions of jobs," predominantly for those without college degrees or associate's degrees. He'll call it "a blue-collar blueprint to build America."

Biden discusses whether democracy can work in 21st century


433d ago / 9:17 PM UTC

Biden sat down Wednesday with several representatives from the major news networks at a luncheon — a tradition in modern American politics — to discuss his speech and recap his first 100 days in office before his address to Congress tonight.

NBC News' Lester Holt attended the luncheon on behalf of the network. Much of the conversation was off the record, but on the record, the president said that he feels an urgency to shepherd America's recovery and that this moment in history will be written about as a crossroads. 

"About whether or not democracy can function in the 21st century. Not a joke. [Or] whether autocracy is the answer," he said, adding that Chinese President "Xi does not believe we can. That's what he's betting on."

He also said he didn't want his American Rescue Plan to fail. 

"I kept saying to the staff: 'We can't afford to lose out of the box. We cannot afford to lose this first effort. We got to make sure whatever we pick and what we do, we can't afford to lose,'" he said. 

Harris and Pelosi will be making history

433d ago / 9:02 PM UTC

The address will be the first time two women will be sitting behind the president for a formal speech to Congress: Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

It was just 14 years ago that Pelosi became the first woman to sit behind a president (George W. Bush) for an address to Congress.

Because of the pandemic, attendees will be required to wear masks, including Harris and Pelosi, per a source. 

433d ago / 8:12 PM UTC

Biden's first 100 days as consoler-in-chief


433d ago / 8:11 PM UTC

Joe Biden wanted a vacation. Instead, he got another funeral.

It was May of last year. Biden had recently secured the Democratic presidential nomination, and he wanted to take some time off the virtual campaign trail to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the death of his son Beau.

But then George Floyd was killed, the country exploded into a racial reckoning, and the man who has been dubbed "America's Grief Counselor," the "Emissary of Grief" and the "Designated Mourner" felt compelled, once again, to eulogize.

"Unlike most, you must grieve in public," Biden told Floyd's family at the funeral. "And it's a burden. A burden that is now your purpose."

Public grieving has been Biden's burden and purpose since he was first sworn into the Senate from a podium erected next to the hospital bed where his sons were convalescing from the car accident that had killed their mother and sister.

And it's the burden Biden now carries for the nation 100 days into being president of a country that has lost more than 570,000 people to a pandemic while martyrizing people like Floyd.

Click here for the full story. 

Biden to propose free preschool, community college in address to Congress

433d ago / 8:10 PM UTC

President Biden will announce a roughly $1.8 trillion plan to invest in universal preschool, free community college and expanded access to child care in his joint address to Congress on Wednesday night, the White House said.

The proposal, which the White House calls the American Families Plan, would also increase taxes on the wealthy to offset the cost over 15 years. It is the second phase of Biden's two-part push to reshape the economy, following the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, which he announced last month..

The American Families Plan would provide universal preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds, as well as two years of free community college. Both programs would be available regardless of income. The plan would also extend the expansion of the federal child tax credit in the American Rescue Plan through 2025 and permanently make the tax credit fully refundable.

Click here for the full story