State of the Union: What’s the silver thing in front of Johnson?

The silver display in front of House Speaker Mike Johnson during Biden’s State of the Union is considered “the oldest surviving artifact of the House.”

WASHINGTON — As President Joe Biden delivered his third State of the Union address before Congress on Thursday night, some may have noticed a small, shiny display in front of House Speaker Mike Johnson.

What was the silver display in front of Mike Johnson during Biden’s State of the Union address?

According to the House of Representatives website, it’s a coin-silver inkstand that is placed in the rostrum before the speaker calls each session of the House to order. It was created sometime around 1815 by Jacob Leonard. 

“The inkstand is considered the oldest surviving artifact of the House and was made between 1810 and 1820,” the House website said. “Although its origins are mysterious, it most likely came into the House around 1819. The inkstand is stamped with the mark of J. Leonard, a Washington silversmith and watchmaker.”

The inkstand, which is over 200 years old, contains three replacement crystal inkwells and is adorned on both sides by swags and eagles, according to the website. 

“The feet of the tray take the form of fasces with snakes winding around them, classical symbols of unity and wisdom, respectively,” the House website’s description reads. 

Last year, then-Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy and Vice President Kamala Harris sat behind Biden.

Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana became the House speaker in October after unhappy Republicans ousted Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California. Rep. Nancy Pelosi had the job before McCarthy but lost it when Democrats failed to keep the majority in the 2022 midterm elections.

Johnson is the third House speaker to sit behind Biden during a State of the Union, reflecting the political instability in Washington and a challenging shift for Biden.

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