WASHINGTON – For the first time in history, two women will sit behind a president during an address to a joint session of Congress.
The historic image during Joe Biden’s speech Wednesday is 245 years in the making since the nation’s founding.
American presidents are flanked by the speaker of the House and the vice president during such high-profile speeches, each sitting behind and on either side of the commander in chief during the prime time address.
For the first time, both of those positions are now held by women: Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
It’s expected to make for a historic visual.
We asked Democrat and Republican women serving in Congress about what the milestone means to them.
Pelosi on Jan. 6: ‘They would have had a battle on their hands’ if the mob had caught her
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen
Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen was the first woman elected governor of New Hampshire and the first woman elected to the Senate from New Hampshire.
“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. When women of all ages tune in Wednesday night, they will see themselves in” Pelosi and Harris, she said.
“We know the best way to increase female representation in Congress and every level of government is to encourage more women to run. 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 concluded.
Sen. Mazie Hirono
Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono, the first female senator from Hawaii, told USA TODAY “it is yet another message to our country that this is a diverse country, and women leaders are welcome.”
Beyond getting elected, women “are becoming speakers” and holding positions of power, she said.
The image is important “for young girls in particular,” Hirono said. “I mean it’s for everyone that this should give us all hope that these are the kinds of changes that will bring about positive” and further progress.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., told USA TODAY that having two women sitting behind the president “will certainly be a sight to see.”
“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 continued.
“This idea has driven my fight for a women’s museum on the National Mall,” Maloney said.
Maloney has been championing the Smithsonian Women’s History Act to add such a museum to D.C. for years. Congress recently included funding the museum in its year-end spending bill.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto
Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, the first woman to represent Nevada in the Senate, said diversity and representation matters.
“There had never been a Latina in the U.S. Senate until I was elected, and I know how powerful it is to see someone who looks, sounds, or thinks like us in positions of leadership,” Cortez Masto told USA TODAY. “I sat next to then-Senator Kamala Harris at last year’s State of the Union, and it will mean so much to women and girls across the world to have her standing in front of the chamber as our first female Vice President.”
Rep. Val Demings
Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., is a longtime public servant with a background in law enforcement. She became Orlando, Florida’s first female police chief in 2007.
“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. 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,” she said in a statement.
Sen. Cynthia Lummis
Republican Sen. Cynthia Lummis is the first woman from Wyoming elected to the Senate and is a strong advocate for women’s progression in politics.
“Wyoming has, by far, the richest history of women firsts – from the first woman voter to the first woman Governor – a point of great pride and inspiration in our state,” she told USA TODAY in a statement. “It’s critical that girls across the country see women at the highest levels of government and know that they too can serve as Vice President and Speaker of the House. However, to hold these positions women must win elections, and to win an election, women must RUN for office! If women don’t run, women can’t win – so I encourage all women to run!”
Rep. Brenda Lawrence
Democratic Rep. Brenda Lawrence is the first woman and first African American to serve as mayor of Southfield, Michigan. Currently, she is the only Black lawmaker of the Michigan congressional delegation.
“Being able to see the first woman Speaker of the House and the first woman, first Black American, and first South Asian American Vice President sitting behind the president is nothing short of HERstoric,” Lawrence told USA TODAY in a statement.
“As the young Black girl who grew up on the eastside of Detroit who now walks the halls of Congress built by slaves, this history is not lost on me,” she said. “Women, especially Black women, have made groundbreaking strides over the past couple of years. The soul and moral compass of our nation rests on the shoulders of women. As we work together to build back better, we must make sure to build back better with women front and center.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is the first woman to become top Democrat in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the first woman to chair the Senate Select Committee and the first woman chair of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.
“It will mean a great deal for me to see Vice President Harris and Speaker Pelosi sitting behind President Biden on Wednesday,” Feinstein told USA TODAY. “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.”
Rep. Katherine Clark
Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., elected assistant speaker in 2020, is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Women’s Caucus and is an advocate for issues concerning women and families.
“The image of two women standing behind the president at Wednesday’s Joint Address is powerful and groundbreaking, but this is about more than just representation,” Clark told USA TODAY. “Vice President Harris and Speaker Pelosi bring their life experiences to every policy decision they make and conversation they lead – this is how we ensure that the needs of women and families, from equal pay to child care to paid leave, are center pieces of our economic recovery and long-term success as a nation.”
Rep. Beth Van Duyne
Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Texas, who was the first female mayor of Irving, Texas, praised GOP women in Congress.
“On Wednesday I will sit with members of the largest Republican female class of Freshmen congresswomen in history, of which I am proud to be a part. But what I value in my elected leaders more than gender, is hard work and delivering results,” she said in a statement.
Van Duyne also criticized the vice president for what she called a “humanitarian crisis” on the southern border and Pelosi for trying “to jam through a partisan agenda.”
“To value women in politics means not assuming we can all agree and that we all support the same issues and agendas,” she said. “I am proud to be a woman representing my district, but I am even more proud to have the honor of representing all of the people of the 24th District.”