Female Lawmakers Reflect on History-Making Appearance of 2 Women at Biden’s Speech to Congress

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Virginia Chamlee
·4 min read
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Getty (3) From left: Vice President Kamala Harris, President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

Joe Biden's remarks before Congress on Wednesday night will be a first in more ways than one: It marks the first time the new president has spoken before the assembled lawmakers and the first time that any president will be joined by two women on the dais.

As the commander-in-chief is traditionally flanked by the speaker of the House of Representatives and the vice president, Biden will be seated just in front of Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris.

Democratic women in Congress spoke to USA Today about the history-making moment, saying the visual is important for those watching the speech.

"Representation matters, and it is past time that we see two women on the dais representing the highest civilian roles in the U.S. government," New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen told the paper. "When women of all ages tune in Wednesday night, they will see themselves in [Pelosi and Harris]."

The view of two women beside the president of the United States, Shaheen added, could encourage more women to run for office. "We've seen these numbers increase over the years, and I hope that visual Wednesday night reaffirms to the women and girls who are watching that no job is off limits," she said.

Hawaiian Sen. Mazie Hironi echoed those thoughts, saying she believed Harris and Pelosi's appearance will resonate with "young girls in particular" and "should give us all hope."

New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney said those seated on the dais will serve as a reminder of how far the women's equality movement has come in recent years.

"We have made tremendous strides for women's equality in my lifetime and this is the type of representation that can inspire so many young minds. If you see it — you can be it," she said.

getty images From left: Vice President Kamala Harris listens as President Joe Biden gives a speech on April 20.

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Florida Rep. Val Demings concurred with her fellow Democratic lawmakers, telling USA Today the moment would be particularly remarkable given that Harris is Black.

"This should be a nation where everyone should be able to live their American Dream. I am extremely excited that all of America's daughters — and our sons — will be able to see two strong, powerful women, including a Black woman, occupying the dais with the President of the United States," Demings said in a statement. "When a child sees something for the first time, it becomes achievable in their mind. We should not discount how powerful this moment will be."

As Sen. Dianne Feinstein told the paper, however, there's more history to come.

"It will mean a great deal for me to see Vice President Harris and Speaker Pelosi sitting behind President Biden on Wednesday," Feinstein said. "We've come a long way in a short time, but it will mean even more when we finally have a woman president addressing Congress."

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Pelosi, 81, made history in 2007 when she was became the first woman to serve as speaker of the House. She again made history January 2019 after regaining her position as speaker — which is second in line to succeed the president — as the first person to do so in more than 60 years.

When inaugurated in January, Harris, 56, became the first woman vice president, as well as the first Black person and first person of Asian descent to hold the office.

Wearing a white suit in a tribute to the suffragette movement, Harris reflected on the struggle for equality in her November victory speech.

"All the women who have worked to secure and protect the right to vote for over a century 100 years ago with the 19th Amendment, 55 years ago with the Voting Rights Act and now in 2020 with a new generation of women in our country who cast their ballots and continued the fight for their fundamental right to vote and be heard. Tonight, I reflect on their struggle, their determination and the strength of their vision to see what can be unburdened by what has been," Harris said in her speech.

"And I stand on their shoulders. And what a testament it is to Joe's character that he had the audacity to break one of the most substantial barriers that exists in our country and select a woman as his vice president."