Vice President Harris, Speaker Pelosi will make history Wednesday at presidential address

Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi
Posted at 8:09 PM, Apr 27, 2021

President Joe Biden is making his first joint address to Congress Wednesday, and for the first time ever, both seats behind him will be filled by women.  

"It is a monumental moment," said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

"It's a true, truly historical moment. It's a moment of change," said Birgitta Ohlsson, director of political parties at the National Democratic Institute.

As the leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives, the vice president and speaker of the House traditionally sit behind the president during a major speech to Congress. Experts say the image of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris filling those chairs will send a positive message to women and girls not only in the U.S., but around the world. 

"We have around 40% women in Parliament (United Kingdom), and we see a lot of progress. But in many of these countries, we've never had a woman as a prime minister or president. So I think this shows that if the most powerful country in the world can do it, more countries can do it," said Ohlsson.

Pelosi is no stranger to historic "firsts." In January 2007, she became the first female Speaker of the House, which gave her a seat behind then-President George W. Bush.

"And tonight, I have a high privilege and distinct honor of my own — as the first president to begin the State of the Union message with these words: Madam Speaker," said President Bush at the time. 

While women represent about half of the U.S. population, they make up only about a quarter of Congress. And while Harris made history as the first female vice president, no woman has yet to crack the ultimate glass ceiling in the U.S. 

"We also have to acknowledge that there's still tremendous work that needs to be done, and needs to be done on both sides of the aisle," said Walsh. 

But Wednesday's image of Pelosi and Harris sitting behind President Biden will be more than just symbolic. Both women are key leaders and decision-makers for the country.

"They are themselves, I mean, highly respected and experienced politicians, with a lot of them political waves from decades back. And so I think that shows that they are extremely good role models, not only for girls, but also for boys," said Ohlsson.

"His vice president is the last person in the room with him when he's making these decisions, which means that a woman is in the room when a lot of the important decisions are being made and her experiences that are different than any vice president we have ever seen," said Walsh.