Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made history on Wednesday by being the first women — one of whom is Black and Indian American — to share the stage during a presidential address in Congress.
At the start of his speech, US President Joe Biden mentioned the historic event. Biden addressed the two women standing behind him with "Madam Speaker" and "Madam Vice President" after taking the podium.
“No president has ever said those words — and it's about time,” he continued.
On Wednesday night, Biden gave his first prime-time address to a joint session of Congress, flanked by Pelosi and Harris, two California Democrats.
Another historic moment occurred as the two exchanged an elbow-bump hello, a pandemic twist on the conventional handshake. As the party waited for Biden to arrive, Pelosi and Harris stood side by side behind the dais in the House chamber, talking and sometimes waving to lawmakers.
“It's a lot of fun. It's also fantastic to be a part of history. During an interview on MSNBC hours before the speech, Pelosi said, "It's about time."
Pelosi has already seen what it's like to stand on the House chamber's rostrum and introduce a president for their speeches. Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump have all given speeches there.
Women's rights activists said it would be a "beautiful moment" to see Harris and Pelosi sitting together behind Biden. They did say, however, that electing a woman to the White House, as well as adding an equal rights amendment to the Constitution, is still a long way off.
Biden aided the process by promising to choose a woman as his running mate and choosing Harris, a US senator from California at the time.
“This is a fantastic start, but we must keep moving forward to ensure that women are treated equally,” said Christian Nunes, president of the National Organization for Women.
During Republican President George W. Bush's presidency, Pelosi made history by becoming the first female House speaker. He recognized the significance of the moment when he informed Congress after Pelosi's election that he had the honor of becoming the first president to address Congress with the words "madam speaker."
During Republican Trump's presidency, Pelosi, 81, regained the dominant leadership position and sat behind him during his last two addresses to Congress, famously tearing up her copy of Trump's remarks in 2020 as cameras continued to roll after he was done addressing lawmakers.
Harris, 56, made history last year when she was elected vice president for the first time as the first woman and the first Black and Indian American. She meets Pelosi as president of the Senate to preside over the joint session of Congress.
Wednesday night, according to Debbie Walsh, director of Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics, will demonstrate to men, women, boys, and girls that women can achieve and hold high-level roles and are just as entitled to them as men.
Walsh also mentioned Biden's pledge to place a woman on his ticket, as well as his Cabinet's diversity. She predicted that Biden would begin his speech by turning around to face Pelosi and Harris and feeling proud — not just for himself, but also for the country and his party and that he would recognize the historic implications of the event and the role he played in it.
Walsh said, "For those of us who care about women in public leadership, we also look forward to the day when the person standing in front of the podium is a woman." “However, for the time being, this is a particularly satisfying moment.”
Harris's office refused to comment on her historic appearance in Trump's State of the Union speech on Wednesday, choosing to let the moment speak for itself.
Aside from Wednesday's address, Harris and Pelosi have achieved yet another first in US and women's history. They are the first and second in line for the presidency, respectively.