In historic first, two powerful women flank US president

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden’s address to Congress broke a historic glass ceiling as two women – Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – sat behind the president for the first time in US history.

The seating arrangement carried a symbolic meaning for the advancement of US women in recent decades, since Harris and Pelosi stand first and second in the presidential line of succession, respectively.

Harris, the first woman and the first Black and Asian person to serve as vice president, sat to Biden’s right. Pelosi, who became the first woman speaker of the House of Representatives in 2007, sat to his left.

The two women are playing a vital role in the early days of the Biden presidency, with Harris as a close adviser and tie-breaker in an evenly divided Senate and Pelosi helping to marshal the president’s legislative agenda through Congress.

Biden spoke to a joint session of the House and Senate with attendance restricted to enforce social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Harris arrived ahead of Biden and Pelosi affectionately took the vice president’s hand as she reached the dais before quickly switching to a pandemic-appropriate elbow bump.

“Madam Speaker, Madam Vice President,” Biden said as he addressed the crowd. “No president has ever said those words from this podium, no president has ever said those words. And it’s about time!”

The chamber, with a limited number of lawmakers on hand due to coronavirus guidelines, burst into applause, as First Lady Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff joined in the ovation.

The moment marked a milestone in the nation’s nearly 245-year history, and female lawmakers noted the symbolism regarding the strides that women have taken to reach positions of American power.

It also marked a first of another sort: both the speaker and the vice president were wearing masks, another key plank of policies implemented in Congress beginning last year to guard against the spread of Covid-19.

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