WASHINGTON — If this were a normal year, Representative Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, might have spent hours leading up to President Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress camped out in the House chamber among a small but determined tribe of lawmakers known as “aisle hogs.”
Their goal, on one of Washington’s biggest nights, is usually to score the handful of seats smack in the middle of the political mosh pit best positioned for shaking hands with the president — and being seen on national television — as he parades in and out. Mr. Cohen, an avid sports fan, once even got President George W. Bush to sign a Memphis Tigers hat on his way down the aisle.
But on Wednesday morning, as congressional leaders prepared for a very abnormal pandemic-era speech, neither Mr. Cohen nor any other lawmaker was anywhere in sight. House leaders had locked the chamber shut, blocked off coveted aisle seats to prevent crowding and drastically slashed attendance to about 200 people, from the usual 1,600.
Those without tickets were urged to stay far away as the Secret Service and National Guard members placed the Capitol on a secure lockdown for the first joint session of Congress since Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the building and sent lawmakers fleeing for their lives.
their formal rebuttal to Mr. Biden’s speech, was characteristically calm as he flitted around the Capitol between prep sessions. His regimen for the big night: “Lots of ice cream and cookies and sitting on the couch, hanging out a little bit.”