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Biden SOTU makes history with 2 women seated behind president, other women in key roles

President Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday night was the first in U.S. history with two women seated behind the president during his speech. 

Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi flanked the president – as is customary during the State of the Union – 15 years after Pelosi became the first woman in that position in 2007 when she became speaker during George W. Bush’s presidency. She is the first and only woman to serve as speaker of the House. 

Harris is the first woman to serve as vice president.

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Both Harris and Pelosi also sat behind the president during his address to Congress last year but that speech, delivered just weeks after Biden took office, was not considered a State of the Union address.

Perhaps fittingly, Tuesday’s speech also came on the first day of Women’s History Month.

Designated survivor

Women also played other prominent roles during the evening.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, a former governor of Rhode Island, was chosen as the designated survivor, located away from the Capitol to run the government in the event some disaster occurred — although Raimondo was not the first woman to take on the role. 

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo served as "designated survivor" for Tuesday night's State of the Union address.

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GOP and far-left rebuttals

And two women delivered rebuttal remarks after the president’s speech.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds gave the Republican response. Reynolds is one of only three female Republican governors currently in office. She has been preceded in the task by several other GOP women, including Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers; Iowa U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. 

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who delivered the GOP rebuttal after President Biden's State of the Union address Tuesday, is seen during a news conference in Adel, Iowa, Oct. 20, 2021.

In an unusual move, Democratic U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan also delivered a rebuttal, on behalf of the far-left Working Families Party.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. 

3 women on Supreme Court

Tuesday’s State of the Union was also the first in which three women were serving on the U.S. Supreme Court. Justices Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett attended Biden’s speech but Justice Sonia Sotomayor did not. Sotomayor has diabetes and is at high risk for serious illness from the coronavirus, CNBC reported. She had been participating in court sessions remotely until recently returning to the bench, the report said.

The court could soon get a fourth woman: Biden has nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson, to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, pending Senate confirmation. Biden had announced in advance that he intended to select a Black woman for the role.

During Biden’s slightly more than an hour speech, he talked about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, inflation back home and the pandemic, among other topics. 

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