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Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Paul Ryan watch President Obama deliver his final State of the Union speech in January 2016. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Biden's address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday will be noteworthy not because of the COVID-restricted audience but because he'll stand before two women in the House Chamber.

Why it matters: The joint address is not a State of the Union speech, though it will have the usual trappings: an announcement of the president's arrival, and clapping as he walks down the aisle. Almost everything else will be different.

  • There are 535 members of Congress and usually 1,600 people in the chamber. On Wednesday, the number will be capped at 200 — and no guests allowed.
  • Many House Republicans will be absent, in part because the House is in recess, in part because they're holding their annual retreat in Orlando, Florida.
  • The Senate is in session, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he plans to be there. "I want to hear the president. I think we should go if we can, out of respect for the office and him," Graham said today.

The biggest visible visual difference will be apparent when the president steps up to the podium. Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be seated in the two chairs behind him.

  • It will be a first for the nation: the No. 1 and No. 2 people in the line of presidential succession are both women.

By the numbers: A source familiar with the ticket distribution system told Axios all four caucuses were set to receive the same amount: Senate Republicans and Democrats, and House Republicans and Democrats. 

  • A separate source said the Senate received 58 seats, which were evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.
  • Senate Democrats distributed their allotment through a lottery, according to a person familiar with the process.

The intrigue: Some decision-makers think the current climate of racial tension warranted chair members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus being prioritized as guests.

  • Others floated the idea of inviting only the freshman class, many of whom braved the Jan 6. attack but would likely be denied a seat at the most prominent congressional event of the year because of social distancing rules.
  • The event has been designated a National Special Security Event, under the supervision of the Secret Service. A Joint Threat Assessment has been performed and circulated to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, a document reviewed by Axios shows.

What to watch: Some Republicans are furious about the skinny guest list. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) told Axios she will be in attendance anyway.

  • "I've requested an invitation and I haven't heard back," Boebert said last week. "I'm showing up."

Go deeper

Graham says he urged Trump "to be aggressive" about COVID vaccine

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who recently tested positive for COVID-19, told AP on Thursday that he's urged former President Trump "to be aggressive and say, 'Take the vaccine'" to increase vaccination rates.

The big picture: Some Republicans have pushed Trump, who was vaccinated in January, to become more vocal in pushing his supporters to get the vaccine.

Scoop: Inside a Kamala Harris crisis dinner

Vice President Harris boards Air Force Two in Mexico City in June. Photo: Hector Vivas/Getty Images

A group of the Democratic Party's most influential women met for dinner at a home in the nation’s capital last month to game out how to defend Vice President Kamala Harris and her chief of staff, Tina Flournoy, against a torrent of bad press.

Why it matters: It's telling that so early in the Biden-Harris administration, such powerful operatives felt compelled to try to right the vice president's ship.

Aug 6, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Senate readies for final infrastructure vote

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is seen discussing the infrastructure bill with reporters on Thursday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) filed cloture on the Senate's $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill Thursday night, setting it up for a final vote in his chamber as early as Saturday.

Why it matters: The bill's expected passage will be a major victory for Congress and the Biden administration, especially given the current level of polarization in Congress.

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