Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made history Wednesday as the first women to share the stage in Congress during a presidential address.
In President Joe Biden’s first prime-time speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, he was flanked by Pelosi and Harris, two California Democrats.
“It’s pretty exciting. And it’s wonderful to make history. It’s about time,” Pelosi said hours before the speech during an interview on MSNBC.
Pelosi already knows what it feels like to sit on the rostrum in the House chamber and introduce a president for speeches. She has sat there for several addresses by Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Women’s advocates said seeing Harris and Pelosi seated together behind Biden would be 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.
Biden helped usher the moment along by pledging to pick a woman for his running mate and selecting Harris, then a U.S. 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 Organization for Women.
Pelosi made history by becoming the first female House speaker during Bush’s presidency. He acknowledged the moment by noting during his address to Congress after Pelosi’s election that he had the privilege of being the first president to open with the words “Madam Speaker.”
Pelosi, 81, reclaimed the powerful leadership post during Trump’s presidency and sat behind him during his final two speeches to Congress, famously ripping up her copy of Trump’s remarks in 2020 after he finished addressing lawmakers.
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 Pelosi in presiding over the joint session of Congress.
Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, said Wednesday night would show men, women, boys and girls that women can attain and hold high-level positions and that they are as entitled to them as men are.
Walsh also noted Biden’s promise to put a woman on his ticket, and pointed, as well, to the diversity of his Cabinet. She said the setting behind Biden on Wednesday was likely to make him feel proud — not just personally, “but I also think proud for the country and proud for his party. And I think he will clearly see the historic implications of this and the role that he played in making that happen.”
“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,” Walsh added. “But for now, this is a particularly gratifying moment.”
Harris’ office declined to comment Wednesday on her historic role in the president’s address, preferring to let the moment speak for itself.
Apart from the speech Wednesday, Harris and Pelosi have notched another first in U.S. and women’s history. They are first and second, respectively, in the line of presidential succession.