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Smaller crowd for Biden speech to Congress on Wednesday

WASHINGTON — Security concerns and pandemic rules will drastically reduce the audience in the House chamber for President Joe Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, but Nevada’s senators will be in the chamber and have invited guests to virtually attend.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said increased security and COVID-19 precautions will limit the number of people allowed in the chamber to 200 people, down from the 1,600 officials and guests who usually attend speeches by presidents.

Pelosi said she’s not concerned about the appearance of Biden speaking to a smaller audience.

“It’ll be its own character,” she said. “It’ll be its own wonderful character.”

Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, both Democrats, got tickets for the speech that were handed out by lottery. House members received tickets based on seniority, and none of Nevada’s members will be in the chamber for Biden’s remarks, which come during a period when members of Congress are working in their districts.

Biden is expected to tout past legislative victories, the vaccination of more than 200 million Americans and serve as a backdrop for the president’s plan to help families with child tax credits and programs to be paid for by increased taxes on the wealthy.

Republicans oppose the tax increases proposed by Biden, which would roll back many of the cuts passed by Congress during the Trump era.

Prior to the speech, the Republican National Committee will host a round table featuring North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee and local business owners to discuss the impact of Biden’s proposed tax increases and economic policies on our small business community.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., will deliver the Republican response to the address.

Virtual guests only

No guests are allowed to attend the speech in person. But to honor tradition, Pelosi has invited a guest, Dr. Kenneth Tai, the chief health officer for North East Medical Services in San Francisco, to virtually attend the speech.

Congressional Democrats, including those from Nevada, have also invited guests to virtually participate in the president’s first appearance before a joint session of Congress.

Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., has invited Jenna Robertson, 48, to virtually attend. Robertson told the Review-Journal that she and her husband benefited from extended unemployment benefits during the pandemic when he lost his job at an area bank.

“It was really scary,” said Robertson, the mother of five children. “It’s still a struggle.”

She said she will watch the speech from home, and hopes to hear the president say the nation is finally headed for some normalcy after a year of economic trouble and uncertainty.

Robertson is also interested in the Biden plan for families, and details about the child tax credits.

“It’s actual money in our pocket,” she said.

Magnolia Magat, owner of Truffles N Bacon Cafe, was invited by Rosen as a virtual guest. The small business owner said she had trouble staying open during the pandemic.

The Paycheck Protection Program, created by a coronavirus rescue bill passed by Congress in 2020, was continued in the $1.9 trillion rescue package proposed by Biden and passed by Congress in March. Magat received paycheck protection loan through the Navy Federal Credit Union.

“Our doors have been able to stay open,” said Magat about the loan program that allowed small businesses to pay salaries, rent and other costs to lessen the unemployment rate, which hit Las Vegas particularly hard due to its dependence on tourism and travel industries.

Spots for minister, Oct. 1 victims

The Rev. Kelcey West, the pastor of Nehemiah Ministries Christian Church in Las Vegas, is the virtual guest of Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev.

West was involved in efforts to get community members vaccinated through the Back to Life Initiative, designed to increase inoculations of Black residents in Southern Nevada during the pandemic.

There also will be a somber tone to the Nevada delegation’s actions.

As has been her custom since 2017, Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., will leave a virtual open seat in remembrance of victims in the Oct. 1 tragedy on the Las Vegas Strip, declared by the FBI to be the worst mass shooting in the nation’s history.

The attack on innocent concertgoers at a musical festival ultimately left 60 people dead.

The tragedy also prompted renewed calls for gun control and reform of current laws, including bills to ban semi-automatic, assault-style rifles and accessories like “bump stocks,” which were used in the shooting and designed to accelerate the rate of fire.

Biden has called on Congress to pass gun control legislation.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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