President Joe Biden had pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions to half by 2030 during the Leaders Summit on Climate

Capitol building on high security alert for Biden joint address months after insurrection

Only 200 people will be allowed to attend the speech in person

Graig Graziosi
Tuesday 27 April 2021 19:04
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As Joe Biden prepares for his first address to a joint session of Congress, security at the US Capitol has shifted into overdrive to ensure the safety of both the president and the lawmakers who will gather to hear him.

The continued targeting of the Capitol – first during the 6 January insurrection by Donald Trump loyalists, then later by Noah Green, a 25-year-old member of the Nation of Islam who rammed his car into a Capitol Police Officer, killing him – has caused security personnel at the seat of the federal legislature to prepare beyond the already heightened security levels demanded by a joint meeting of Congress with the president in attendance.

Typically, hundreds of members of Congress, many of the Supreme Court justices and many other government officials attend the president's speeches to the assembled Congress.

However, this year the event has been designated a "National Special Security Event," and the Secret Service will oversee preparations. As a result – and due to the ongoing pandemic – the number of people allowed inside during Mr Biden's address will be greatly reduced, from 1,600 to just 200.

The Capitol has been surrounded with steel mesh fence, and more than 2,250 National Guard troops representing 18 states plus the District of Columbia have been tasked with defending the building.

The District of Columbia’s city government have asked for help managing protests that might arise in response to Mr Biden’s speech on Wednesday. City officials have asked the Pentagon to authorise their use of the National Guard in order to bolster their police force.

Thus far, that authorisation has not been granted.

Access to the speech is by invite only – primarily due to Covid-19 precautions – and anyone without an invite to the event must leave the Capitol by 5pm on Wednesday.

The House of Representatives is not in session this week, so many lawmakers are not in Washington, as they have been working from home.

Both the Democrats and the Republicans have been given a limited pool of invitations to the speech.

While Democrats will likely exhaust their invitations, House Republicans are participating in a private retreat to Florida this week. It is unlikely they will leave to listen to Mr Biden's speech live.

Only one Supreme Court Justice, Chief Justice John Roberts, was invited. He said he planned to attend.

While Mr Biden's speech may have similarities to the State of the Union, a US president’s first official speech to Congress is considered a joint address. Speeches in subsequent years, once the president has served a longer tenure, are then considered State of the Union addresses.

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