WASHINGTON (AP) — Seats on the floor of the House chamber are not for everybody. But when Pope Francis addresses Congress this fall, they’re going to be even harder to get than usual — and this means you, former senators and representatives.
In an unusual move, the House voted Tuesday to limit those allowed into the chamber for that historic Sept. 24 meeting to 11 categories of people. That’s six categories fewer than are normally allowed to wander onto the floor during routine House proceedings.
Excluded from the list of those who will automatically be allowed to attend: Former members of Congress and former officers of the House, including former sergeants-at-arms and chaplains.
But — and since this is Congress, you may have heard this before — there’s a loophole.
The list of those who will be allowed in includes “other persons as designated by the speaker.” An aide to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, declined to comment on the record about what that might mean.
House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said he was asked by Boehner to propose the restrictions because of safety and security concerns about the large numbers of people who might wish to see the pope.
Who will be permitted to attend? That list includes members of Congress, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, the Supreme Court justices, current officers of the House, the librarian of Congress and department heads.
The White House has not said if Obama will attend.
The House did not vote specifically on the seating restrictions, which aides to both parties said were drawn up by Republicans.
Instead, they were approved Tuesday on a party-line 240-167 vote on a measure setting procedures for debating an unrelated bill giving Congress more powers to review federal agency rule-making.
The House has more than 440 permanent chairs in its chamber to accommodate its 435 representatives and six non-voting members from the District of Columbia and U.S. territories and possessions.
For heavily attended events like State of the Union addresses, scores of temporary seats are added to accommodate the 100-member Senate, foreign diplomats, the president’s Cabinet, Supreme Court justices and others.
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