The wait is over! On April 28, just shy of his 100th day in office, Joe Biden is slated to finally give remarks before a Joint Session of Congress. Traditionally, a President’s first speech before Congress comes just a few weeks after taking office, typically in late February, and the new President lays out a broad legislative agenda for the nation. Yet, for months, Biden has conspicuously avoided this tradition without any explanation.
Now, after several weeks of mounting pressure from Republicans and a notable lack of media appearances by Mr. Biden, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi formally invited the President to the Capitol.
While the first address to Congress is often structured like a State of the Union, Presidents do not technically give their first State of the Union until they have been in office for a full year.
Previously, no President dating back to at least President Reagan has waited more than 40 days to deliver their first speech before Congress. President Trump first spoke before both chambers on February 28, 2017, slightly over one month after taking office, and President Obama spoke before a joint session on February 24, 2009. Mr. Biden’s speech at the end of April will come more than three months after his swearing in.
The announcement comes after the White House repeatedly delayed the timeline for Biden’s joint address. Initially, Biden suggested that he planned to make the speech in February, keeping with the precedent set by previous Presidents. Then, when February arrived, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a press conference that a date for a joint session had not yet been set, just days after Nancy Pelosi said that the address would come following the passage of COVID relief legislation. However, Biden signed that bill into law on March 11 without setting a date.
Democrats have argued that Biden was waiting to give his big speech because of concerns surrounding COVID. But this makes no sense: Biden was vaccinated on December 21, nearly a full month before taking office, and most other lawmakers received the vaccine shortly thereafter. Furthermore, it is unclear why it would be safer for Biden to appear before Congress now as opposed to two months ago, as is custom. Pandemic precautions will still be in place for the speech, and only a limited number of House and Senate lawmakers will be present. This will presumably give the speech an even more muted effect than a Biden address would normally have.
His address to the Joint Session will mark the first speech of this magnitude during Biden’s Presidency. State of the Union style addresses are typically among the most watched television events of the year, with an audience exceeded only by events such as the Super Bowl.
Since taking office, the President has rarely appeared in public for any significant length of time, raising concerns from some about his apparent unwillingness to give extended speeches and face questions from the media. Mr. Biden did not hold his first formal press conference until March 25 – taking longer than all of the 15 previous Presidents to face reporters – and aides often quickly usher him away from the press following official events. President Trump, by contrast, gave his first solo press conference on February 16 of 2017, less than a month into his term, and was known throughout his Presidency for lively interactions with reporters on a near-daily basis.
Questions surrounding Biden’s cognitive decline persisted throughout the 2020 campaign and have only increased in the early months of his Presidency. During a campaign stop in South Carolina, then-candidate Biden told voters he was running for the Senate rather than the Presidency. After taking office, Biden has repeatedly referred to Kamala Harris as “President Harris,” forgotten the name of his defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, forgotten the name of the Pentagon, and struggled to stand up after falling while boarding Air Force One. At his first press conference last month, Biden also appeared to forget what he was talking about and mumble incoherently, despite having extensive notes prepared for him by his staff. The Address to Congress later this month will be the next major test for Mr. Biden, who became the oldest person to assume the Presidency at 78 years and two months.
When Mr. Biden does take the podium at the Capitol, he will have a daunting task before him. Americans will expect answers for the many crises facing the country under his leadership, including an unprecedented surge of illegal border crossings, a controversial pause in the distribution of a major vaccine, and a series of radical left-wing legislative proposals making their way through Congress.