Both President Trump and his opposition in Congress look to highlight their sides of ongoing policy battles with their choice of guests for Tuesday night’s joint address to Congress.
The act of bringing notable guests, or “Lenny Skutniks,” to such addresses is a well-established tradition. Skutnik committed an act of heroism following the crash of Air Florida Flight 90 in January 1982 and was subsequently invited to then-President Ronald Reagan’s 1982 State of the Union address.
For this year, the White House announced that six guests would be joining first lady Melania Trump at the address. Half of that group have lost family members in killings by undocumented immigrants. Jessica Davis and Susan Oliver are both widows of Sacramento, Calif., police officers killed in the line of duty in 2014. Jamiel Shaw Sr. lost his teenage son in 2008 and was a speaker at the Republican National Convention last July. The Trump administration has pledged to publish a weekly list of crime perpetrated by undocumented immigrants.
The first lady’s group will also include Megan Crowley, a 20-year-old college student who overcame a rare childhood genetic disorder after her father founded a pharmaceutical company to look for a cure, and Denisha Merriweather, a school choice supporter. Mauren McCarthy Scalia, widow of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, will also be joining the first lady.
Many Democrats have invited guests who benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the proposed DREAM Act to draw a contrast to the president’s messaging and policies. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., is bringing Oscar Juarez-Luna, who moved with his family to the United States when he was a young child. Juarez-Luna said he hopes to put a face on the issue of immigration and the need for Congress to reform the “broken immigration system.” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., is bringing Rev. Keary Kincannon, a minister at a church whose hypothermia shelter in Fairfax, Va., was targeted by ICE agents earlier this month.
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., has invited former Obama labor secretary and newly elected Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez as his guest. Along with Perez naming Ellison the organization’s deputy chair, this move appears to be another attempt to smooth things over in the party, which saw the DNC contest both repeating the Hillary Clinton/Bernie Sanders 2016 primary contest and serving as a proxy war between the establishment center and left of the party.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who discovered the elevated level of lead in the water supply of Flint, Mich., is attending as the guest of Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich. Hanna-Attisha is an Iraqi-American who has written against Trump’s travel ban. She is one of many guests who have spoken out against or been affected by the executive order halting immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries.
Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., invited Christine Leinonen, whose son, Christopher, was killed at the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando last summer. Demings’ office told Roll Call that Leinonen wanted to send a message to Trump that her son was not killed by an undocumented immigrant or an immigrant from one of the countries included in his travel ban.
Another theme among Democratic legislators is taking constituents who have benefited from Obamacare to highlight some of the program’s successes. One example is Kathy Palmer, a Tampa resident and guest of Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla. Palmer paid $179 of $70,000 in emergency medical bills due to her coverage from the Affordable Care Act.
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