The pandemic may have shrunk the audience of lawmakers at President Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night, but it didn’t put a damper on their time-honored tradition of using the occasion to buttonhole the president after his speech.
It wasn’t just Democrats — Republican lawmakers, too, were spotted waiting along Biden’s path to raise issues that are important to them. Mr. Biden, a longtime former senator, seemed to be in no hurry to leave after his hour-long speech and could be seen talking with a number of lawmakers for some time afterward.
Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis, a freshman representative whose district covers Staten Island, New York, used her proximity to hand Mr. Biden her business card.
“She asked him to please go to the border and support our CBP officers,” her spokeswoman, Natalie Baldassarre, told CBS News. “They also spoke briefly about transportation and infrastructure.”
Another freshman, Republican Representative Troy Nehls, of Texas, whose district covers parts of Fort Bend, Brazoria, and Harris counties, told the president that as a former sheriff, he wants to be involved in criminal justice reform.
“I want to be part of it. It’s needed. So I don’t know how to reach out to you, but I have the experience,” he told the president as he was exiting the House chamber.
“I’ll reach out to you,” the president replied.
And he was true to his word — Thursday morning, Biden’s staff reached out for an initial conversation where Nehls shared his ideas to reduce the recidivism rate among former prisoners. As sheriff, he successfully reduced the two-year re-arrest rate with inmates who took part in HVAC and welding programs he established for non-violent inmates at the county jail, spokesman Daniel Gribble said. Nehls recommended that similar programs be implemented in other county jails across the country.
In addition to the freshmen Republicans bending Mr. Biden’s ear, retiring Ohio Senator Rob Portman was also seen speaking with the president.
The chat looked amicable, but it’s unlikely Portman was complimenting the president on the infrastructure proposal he’s been pitching.
“Pres. Biden’s $2.7 trillion plan infrastructure goes way beyond any reasonable definition of infrastructure — only $115 billion, less than 5%, goes towards our nation’s roads and bridges,” Portman tweeted just 21 minutes into the speech. “In reality, it is just a massive spending bill packed with liberal priorities.”