NASHVILLE — While federal Republican lawmakers in some states have said they won't attend President Joe Biden's first joint address to Congress on Wednesday, others, including some Tennessee members, do wish to attend and have concerns about not being allowed in due to Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's tight COVID-19 protocols.
Biden's joint address — it's not considered an official State of the Union speech until a president's second year in office — is scheduled for Wednesday in the House of Representatives. The House has 435 representatives, while there are 100 senators. The chamber can accommodate an estimated 1,000 or so people, which can include guests and administration officials.
But Pelosi is limiting total attendance to about 200, according to multiple news accounts, and the event includes cabinet members and others. Eight of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices normally attend. This year, just one justice will be there.
"I will not be attending President Biden's address to a joint session of Congress due to COVID-19 restrictions," U.S. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., said in a statement to the Times Free Press. "I hope the president will use this opportunity to present a path forward for solving the crisis at our southern border."
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., said in a statement "members were told that there would be 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats in the House that would be invited to attend President Biden's address — I have not been invited. This is yet another calculated attempt to protect the Biden administration's carefully scripted narrative. The House chamber can hold almost 1,000 people. If you combine House and Senate members that is just over 50% capacity."
DesJarlais added that "if it were occurring in the traditional fashion and we were in session I would certainly attend as I would be more than happy to share my conservative opinion on his socialistic driven agenda."
Spencer Hurwitz, spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said the "senator's plan is to attend in person."
Judd Deere, a spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., said Hagerty "will be attending in person."
William Bensur, spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., said the congressman "never received an invitation from Speaker Pelosi asking him to attend."
A spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, had no comment.
Representatives including Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Louie Gohmert of Texas and Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina sent Pelosi a letter last week objecting to the limited seating.
"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 letter said. "We strongly oppose any effort to deny Members of Congress access to the People's House and on behalf of those we represent, urge you to reschedule the event for a day the House is actually in session and ensure invitations are extended to all members."
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