Jennifer Shutt, Georgia Recorder
February 1, 2024
WASHINGTON — Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli performed inside the U.S. Capitol’s cathedral-like Statuary Hall on Thursday morning for the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual event attended by members of Congress and the president.
The ceremony featured numerous prayers, including one that Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn and New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand delivered specifically for President Joe Biden.
“The presidency is bigger than one person or one party — it is an American institution, and as such, we should pray for the president and our country,” Blackburn said.
She then quoted from Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first inaugural address, where the former president said, “Give us, we pray, the power to discern clearly right from wrong and allow all our words and actions to be governed thereby.”
The breakfast was a short reprieve from the partisanship that’s marked the last few months on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have been huddling behind closed doors in an attempt to reach agreement on border security and immigration policy changes as well as funding for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.
The focus on religion and prayer that physically brought Republicans and Democrats together also came just as Biden’s reelection campaign ramps up and Republicans look to win back not only the White House, but the Senate.
This was the 72nd year for the National Prayer Breakfast, which began in 1953 as a way to unite people “of different backgrounds, religions and political affiliations through the power of prayer,” according to the program.
Johnson reads from Old Testament
U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, sat next to Biden in the front row of the event, except when he read Psalm 37 from the Old Testament.
“Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong, for like the grass, they will soon wither, like green plants, they will soon die away,” Johnson said. “Trust in the Lord and do good.”
Biden, speaking at the breakfast that was attended by a few dozen members of Congress, praised Bocelli’s performance.
“By the way, I am an unadulterated fan of Bocelli,” Biden said. “And you know that to be the case.”
Biden called the tenor “incredible” and said that it was like listening to a “choir of herald angels” when Bocelli, the singer’s son and his daughter performed near Christmas at the White House during Biden’s first year in office. The singer has also been important at other points in Biden’s life, he said.
“In a difficult time for our family, after we lost our son Beau, you expressed in a song what we felt in our hearts,” Biden said, noting the song was “Fall on Me.”
“Andrea, you were a gift to my family at that moment and you continue to be.”
Biden told the crowd that he has attended several prayer breakfasts over the years and that he and first lady Jill Biden have “been humbled by the prayers of so many when we needed them badly.”
“It means everything to us,” Biden said. “And we’re all blessed to live in a nation where we can all practice our many faiths and practice them freely. And where we can come together and lift up our nation and each other in our own prayers, especially in tough times.”
Prayers for fallen troops, members of Congress
Biden said his prayers remain with the three U.S. troops killed by a drone attack in Jordan last weekend. The three — Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, Spc. Kennedy Ladon Sanders and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett — were all from bases in Georgia.
Biden plans to travel to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Friday to witness their bodies return home in what’s called a “dignified transfer.”
“They risked it all and we’ll never forget the sacrifice and service to our country that the dozens of service members who were wounded and are recovering now,” Biden said.
Biden said his prayer for members of Congress is the one that states, “And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings and bear you on the breath of dawn and make you shine like the sun. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.”
While Biden and lawmakers don’t always agree, he said, they should remember that they’re all Americans.
“We have really tough, tough differences. We really go at one another,” Biden said. “Let’s remember who the hell, who we are. We’re the United States of America. It’s all about dignity and respect, so let’s practice it.”
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