‘Madam Speaker, Madam Vice President’: Joe Biden starts Congress addresses with the words ‘no President has ever said’

9:18am, Thu 29 Apr 2021
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Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made history as the first women, one of them a black and Indian American, to share the stage in Congress during a presidential address.

President Joe Biden noted the historic development at the very opening of his address.

After taking the podium, Mr Biden greeted the two women standing behind him with a “Madam Speaker” and “Madam Vice President”.

He then declared: “No president has ever said those words — and it’s about time”.

Mr Biden delivered his first prime-time speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night flanked by Ms Pelosi and Ms Harris, two California Democrats.

The two began the night with another historic moment: An elbow-bump hello, a pandemic spin on the traditional handshake.

Ms Pelosi and Ms Harris stood side by side behind the dais in the House chamber, chatting with each other and occasionally waving to politicians as the group waited for Mr Biden to arrive.

“It’s pretty exciting. And it’s wonderful to make history.

“It’s about time,” Ms Pelosi said hours before the speech during an interview on MSNBC.

Ms Pelosi already knows what it feels like to sit on the rostrum in the House chamber and introduce a president for their speeches.

President Joe Biden elbow bumps with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Melina Mara/AP) (AP)

She has sat there for several addresses by Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

Women’s advocates said seeing Ms Harris and Ms Pelosi seated together behind Mr Biden was a “beautiful moment”.

But they noted that electing a woman to sit in the Oval Office remains to be achieved, along with the addition of an equal rights amendment to the Constitution.

Mr Biden helped usher the moment along by pledging to pick a woman for his running mate and selecting Ms Harris, then a US senator from California.

“This is a great start and we have to continue to move forward to give women their equal due,” said Christian Nunes, president of the National Organisation for Women

Ms Pelosi made history by becoming the first female House speaker during Republican Mr Bush’s presidency.

He acknowledged the moment by noting during his address to Congress after Ms Pelosi’s election that he had the privilege of being the first president to open with the words “madam speaker”.

Ms Pelosi, 81, reclaimed the powerful leadership post during Republican Mr Trump’s presidency and sat behind him during his final two speeches to Congress, famously ripping up her copy of Mr Trump’s remarks in 2020 as cameras continued to roll after he was finished addressing politicians.

Vice President Kamala Harris, left, greets House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Jim Watson/AP) (AP)

Ms Harris, 56, made history last year when she became the first woman and first black and Indian American person elected vice president.

In her role as president of the Senate, she joins Ms Pelosi to preside over the joint session of Congress.

Debbie Walsh, director of the Centre for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, said “For all of us who care about women’s public leadership, we still look forward to the day when the person standing at the podium, in front, is a woman.

“But for now this is a particularly gratifying moment.”

Ms Harris’ office declined comment on her historic role in the president’s address, preferring to let the moment speak for itself.

Apart from the speech on Wednesday, Ms Harris and Ms Pelosi have notched another first in US and women’s history.

They are first and second, respectively, in the line of presidential succession.

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