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Congress prepares for an unusual presidential address.


A president’s address to a joint session of Congress is typically a crowded affair, as lawmakers from both parties, and their guests, pack the House floor. But President Biden’s speech on Wednesday, his first before Congress since his inauguration, will look very different.

The event is invite-only to comply with public health guidance during the coronavirus pandemic. A limited number of tickets were sent to members of Congress, and only about 200 people will be allowed into the chamber. Typically, all 535 members of Congress are invited to attend — and bring guests — in addition to other high-ranking Washington officials.

Lawmakers also will not be able to enter the Capitol after 5 p.m. if they are not invited to the speech, according to a memo sent by the House sergeant-at-arms.

Jill Biden, the first lady, is expected to attend the event, according to the White House, which has also limited the number of guests invited. But most, if not all, of the staff will watch virtually, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Friday. Also missing: the traditional box for presidential guests, she said.

“It will not look like or feel like, in many ways, what past joint addresses have,” Ms. Psaki said.

Mr. Biden’s advisers expect him to spend the next two days preparing for the speech, which they say will focus heavily on his $4 trillion plan to reshape the nation’s economy. The proposal includes plans to restore aging roads and bridges, lift wages and improve high-speed internet service across the country.

He is also expected to present a more detailed argument for his plan to reduce poverty and child care costs for families. The $1.5 trillion proposal, called the American Family Plan, would be funded by increasing taxes paid by corporations and the rich.

Ms. Psaki said other issues on the president’s mind before the speech included “police reform, health and his commitment to expanding access to health care.”

Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina will deliver Republicans’ response to Mr. Biden’s address. Mr. Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, is seen as both a rising star in the party and a rare figure able to unite competing factions on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Scott said in a statement that he would deliver an “optimistic vision” for the country focused on economic growth and “empowering working families.”

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