In an era of political “firsts,” Wednesday evening is set to offer one of the most symbolic when for the first time, two women will flank an American president on the dais of the House Chamber as he delivers an address to a joint session of Congress.
President Biden’s remarks are expected to focus on his first 100 days in office, the sweeping infrastructure proposals he’s unveiled and the January 6 attacks at the U.S. Capitol. But it’s the moment that formally launches the proceedings that may be most enduring.
According to protocol, Vice President Kamala Harris will call the proceedings to order and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will formally introduce Mr. Biden to Congress as president for the first time. It’s a moment that lasts a few seconds and usually isn’t seen by the global television audience. But it will be the pinnacle of a remarkable rise for two political figures from California’s Bay Area.
Both are formed by the political experiences of their parents — one the daughter of a big city mayor, the other the daughter of civil rights activists. Both are tested by years of resistance from partisan structures that historically threw up roadblocks to slow the rise of a former housewife and a young ambitious attorney.
“It says a lot about country, and a lot about Joe Biden, and it says certainly a lot about both of the women who have made it to that place,” said former California Senator Barbara Boxer, who once served alongside Pelosi in the House and whose Senate seat Harris filled when she retired. “It’s going to be very emotional for me.”
Aides to Harris consider Wednesday night another marker in an already historic period in the history of the vice presidency and women in politics, but stress that the substance of her work is more important.
Any time there’s a big decision to make at the White House “President Biden promised that the vice president would be last in the room,” said Harris’ communications director Ashley Etienne. “What hasn’t been covered is that she has been at every table and had a voice in every decision made. And she’s been there for every decision of consequence.”
Pelosi, 81, and Harris, 56, represent different paths to power in America.
The speaker is the daughter of former U.S. representative and Baltimore mayor Thomas D’Alesandro Jr. and grew up in a politically active family, but after college, she married Paul Pelosi and moved to New York and then to San Francisco and spent much of her late 20s and early 30s raising five children. Only after they were nearly grown did she become a Democratic National Committee member and chair of the California Democratic Party, and she first ran for Congress in 1987 at the age of 47.
When Pelosi came to Washington, she was just one of 25 women in the House — and the women who made it there were an “oddity” to their male colleagues, Boxer recalled.