When a president addresses Congress flanked by the vice president and speaker of the House, it’s tradition. But when both of those seats are filled by women, it’s history in the making.
Such was the case on Wednesday night, when President Biden delivered his first joint address to a scaled-back crowd of mask-wearing lawmakers.
But the pandemic wasn’t the only history-making factor. Behind him sat two women from California: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Harris, both the first women to hold their positions.
Biden recognized the historic moment at the start of his remarks, addressing “Madam Speaker, Madam Vice President,” as the roughly 200-person chamber burst into applause.
“No president has ever said those words from this podium, and it’s about time,” he said.
Harris made history last November when she became the first woman, first Black person, first Indian American and first Asian American to be elected vice president. She said at the time that “while I may be the first, I won’t be the last.”
“It’s pretty exciting, and it’s wonderful to make history,” she said, when asked about the upcoming address. “It’s about time. I made history when I was the first speaker to be standing behind President Bush, and he made note of that. Now, this is just, just so exciting.”
Indeed, former President George W. Bush began his 2007 State of the Union address with a nod to Pelosi. After he acknowledged that he was the first president to open his remarks with the words “Madam Speaker,” the crowd of (mostly male) lawmakers rose for a lengthy standing ovation.
More than a decade later, lawmakers and constituents alike are celebrating another milestone.
“Like so many women, I feel pride in this moment and seeing this representation. It’s long overdue,” tweeted Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.
“Cheers to VP Kamala Harris & Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, for blazing a trail 245 years in the making,” wrote tennis legend Billie Jean King.
Pelosi made headlines for another memorable appearance at a president’s address to Congress last year, when she conspicuously tore her copy of former President Donald Trump’s speech in half at the end of his final State of the Union address.
His successor is delivering his remarks in a notably different setting. And in another landmark moment, Biden was escorted down the aisle of the House chamber on Wednesday by William Walker, who became the first Black House sergeant-at-arms when he was sworn in by Pelosi earlier this week.