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Biden makes COVID a wildcard in preparation for State of the Union

Biden hopes to use his State of the Union address in the near future to push the pandemic to the back-view mirror.

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Biden makes COVID a wildcard in preparation for State of the Union

It could also be a disruptive display of national tensions, frustration over the failure to get past COVID-19.

Biden's March 1 address will be against Kamala Harris, Vice President. Harris called it a "malaise" due to the persistent COVID and growing public indifference to return to normal after two year of pandemic restrictions. As cases, deaths and hospitalizations decline , even Democratic-run states and local governments are lifting restrictions.

The State of the Union setting, Capitol Hill, remains one of the most severely disrupted in the country. It is also a focal point for culture wars due to the security concerns and restrictions that linger from the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection.

Proxy voting allows legislators to work remotely and avoid going into the office. It has been extended until March. Visits to the office and tours are not permitted. For violating House mask-wearing mandates, GOP lawmakers have been fined thousands of dollars.


 


 

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FILE - After arriving in Washington on Jan. 6, 2022, President Joe Biden is flanked left by Chuck Schumer, N.Y. Senate Majority Leader, and Nancy Pelosi, Calif. House Speaker. Biden will deliver his State of the Union address on March 1 to Congress. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

WASHINGTON (AP), -- President Joe Biden hopes to use his upcoming State of the Union speech to push the pandemic to the back-view mirror. It could also be a disruptive display of national tensions, frustration over the failure to get past COVID-19.

Biden's March 1 address will be against Kamala Harris, Vice President. Harris called it a "malaise" due to the persistent COVID and growing public indifference to return to normal after two year of pandemic restrictions. As cases, deaths and hospitalizations decline , even Democratic-run states and local governments are lifting restrictions.

The State of the Union setting, Capitol Hill, remains one of the most severely disrupted in the country. It is also a focal point for culture wars due to the security concerns and restrictions that linger from the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection.

Proxy voting allows legislators to work remotely and avoid going into the office. It has been extended until March. Visits to the office and tours are not permitted. For violating House mask-wearing mandates, GOP lawmakers have been fined thousands of dollars.

  • Biden's April address to Congress was his first. The number of seats available for the speech was 200, which is about 20% less than usual for a presidential presentation. White House officials have confirmed that Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, will determine the protocol for Biden’s next address to Congress.

    Pelosi stated last week that lawmakers want "fuller participation" this year than they did last year. This includes inviting all members of Congress. "I believe the people are ready for a pivot that shows the American people that we largely have been vaccinated."

She added that attendance will be up to the Capitol physician.

Pelosi stated that she hoped that the Capitol would reopen soon, despite it being closed for security reasons, in an interview last month.

Republicans have been vocal in calling for the lifting of restrictions at Capitol. More than half of the Senate's GOP legislators signed this week a resolution urging Congress to remove all viruses rules and reopen for visitors.

"From shops to venues, most workplaces, and schools, the rest the United States have reopened," stated Sen. Bill Hagerty who was the author of the resolution.

Although the Capitol and other federal buildings set their own rules for themselves, the District of Columbia's indoor mask requirements for indoor gatherings and businesses will be lifted the same day as Biden's address. The White House for its part says it will establish rules for the complex based upon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

Pelosi has not indicated that she is willing to lift the House chamber’s mask guidance. This was despite the fact that the CDC relaxed indoor mask-wearing requirements before the emergence the delta variant.

Biden has been kept away from the virus by the White House, which requires him to wear masks of high quality and limits his participation in large events and travel.

The State of the Union audience includes members of Congress as well as Cabinet members, military leaders and Supreme Court justices. It is not clear yet if Pelosi has made a decision to send invitations Washington's diplomatic corps or other guests to the address.

A speech before a full House chamber would represent the largest audience Biden has ever addressed in his presidency.

The nation's culture wars have become a key front. It is dividing along political and regional lines. The Super Bowl has seen mask-less celebrities enjoy it. In some jurisdictions, schoolchildren are required to wear masks outside during recess. This has drawn criticism as unfair.

Some Biden aides worry that the Capitol scene could fuel the fire or that anti-mask conservative Republicans will use the speech to protest or stunt.

Federal officials are working to create a more flexible, national guideline on mask-wearing before Biden takes the House chamber podium at 9:01 p.m.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director at the CDC, stated Wednesday that she wanted to give people a break with mask-wearing when the metrics are better. She also said that they want to be able to reach for them again if things get worse.

She suggested that the revisions to the guidelines should be coordinated with an overall administration plan for the "next stage" of the virus response. This should happen around February.

As pandemic fatigue becomes more severe, officials in the Administration expect this new strategy and message will be prominently featured in Biden’s speech.

The White House views his speech, along with the anticipated loosening virus limits, as an opportunity for him to restore public confidence in his leadership. A poll by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that only 45% of Americans surveyed last month favored Biden's handling COVID-19. This is down from 66% and 57%, respectively, in December.

Both parties are feeling the pressure.

"This is an opportunity to the president to acknowledge our challenges over the past few years, but also to acknowledge that we're going to have to learn how we live with COVID," stated Democratic Rep. Ami Bera. Bera is a California physician.

Bera stated in an interview that he hoped Congress would relax some of its limitations, including the mask mandate. Biden could also speak to an audience that would symbolise the end of the emergency phase of pandemic.

He said, "It's a bully pulpit and President could use this opportunity to move our country to a more normal place."

This week, Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized Democrats' approach and said that they changed their tune due to shifting public opinion.

He stated that "the only science that has changed in the past two weeks was the political science." "Democrats' polling data is the only data that has changed over the past two weeks."


 

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