By Kristin Wilson and Maegan Vazquez, CNN
All members of Congress will be invited to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1, according to the House sergeant-at-arms, marking a return to a full House chamber after last year’s socially distant speech.
House Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker wrote Thursday there will be coronavirus “safety measures” in place during the address, including mandatory N95 mask wearing and a negative Covid-19 test. He added that after consultations with the House physician it was decided that, “testing is required for all State of the Union attendees, including Members of Congress, invited press, and any staff person who will be in close contact with the principal attendees in a support staff role.”
The memo also states, “completion of SARS CoV2 coronavirus vaccination including booster vaccine is strongly recommended at least two weeks prior to the event.”
CNN reported in May 2021 that congressional Democrats have a 100% Covid-19 vaccination rate, significantly outpacing their Republican counterparts at the time.
In Washington, DC, where the speech is taking place, the city’s mask mandate is scheduled to expire on March 1 — the day of Biden’s first State of the Union address. But the city’s rule changes do not apply to federal buildings, such as the Capitol, where masks are still required.
The decision comes after Biden’s first speech to a joint session of Congress in 2021 was only attended by 200 people in the House chamber instead of the usual 535 members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, members of the administration and guests. Attendance in the chamber was limited due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
During the joint address, Biden stood in front of Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who were both masked. While seats for the address are in demand in a normal year, last year’s speech had far fewer attendees who were distanced several chairs apart.
Biden’s upcoming address will take place shortly after the President is expected to announce his Supreme Court nominee. It’s also taking place amid concerns about the state of the economic recovery and warnings of a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Leaving the Democratic caucus lunch on Capitol Hill earlier Thursday, White House chief of staff Ron Klain said there was “a lot of enthusiasm in that room, and I think people are looking forward to State of the Union.”
Klain laid out for the senators what they can expect to hear from Biden’s State of the Union speech — and promised there would be some “good surprises” in his remarks. One thing Klain said Biden is planning to discuss in his speech was the issue of dark money, per one senator.
This story has been updated with additional background information.
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CNN’s MJ Lee, Manu Raju, Ali Zaslav and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.