Every member of Congress gets to bring guests to watch the president’s State of the Union and this year, Democratic lawmakers are making a bold statement and filling the room with people who the Trump administration is working against.
Common themes emerge when looking at the guest list. Among them are climate change activists and scientists, transgender military members, immigrants, victims of gun violence, and federal workers affected by the government shutdown.
Democrats are pushing for a Green New Deal and begging the administration to take climate change seriously. President Donald Trump, well, isn’t. He’s denied or brushed aside reports put out by his own administration that predict a bleak future for the environment, public health, and the economy all due to climate change.
Rep. Pramila Jaypal (D-Wash.) is betting that the president won’t even mention the phenomena at the State of the Union. She’s bringing both the University of Washington College of the Environment and a climate scientist.
Climate change is the most pressing social issue of our generation and Trump isn't going to say a word about it in his #SOTU speech. That's why I'm honored to have @UWEnvironment Dean and climate scientist @LisaGraumlich as my #SOTU guest.
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) February 1, 2019
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is bringing the executive director of the Sunrise Movement, an organization that mobilizes young activists to push for legal action on climate change.
Varshini Prakash, Executive Director and co-founder of @sunrisemvmt, is a powerful voice of her generation and a fearless leader on climate change.
— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) February 4, 2019
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) is bringing former Department of the Interior official Joel Clement. According to the Press Herald, Clement said he was forced to resign because he spoke out about the dangers of climate change, specifically its impact of Native American communities.
Transgender military members
One of the largest and most timely themes of SOTU guests this year is transgender military members. Just two weeks ago, the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to move forward with plans to ban transgender people from serving.
Democrats are making sure Trump will literally have to face the service members and veterans this ban affects.
2020 presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is bringing Lt. Commander Blake Dremann, the first ever openly transgender service member to be promoted in the military.
Patriots like Lt. Commander Blake Dremann—the first openly transgender servicemember to be promoted in our military's history, and the president of @sparta_pride—make our armed forces and our country stronger. I’m honored he’ll be joining me at the State of the Union. pic.twitter.com/hzjIiMll5U
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) February 4, 2019
Congressman Chris Pappas of New Jersey made history this November when he became the first openly gay person elected to Congress form the state of New Jersey. The Democrat is extending his invitation to others in the LGBT community by inviting Navy veteran Tavion Dignard.
My guest for the #SOTU will be Tavion Dignard, a transgender Navy veteran. The Trump Admin’s transgender service ban makes America less safe and politicizes our military; everyone who is fit to serve should be treated equally. I’m proud to welcome to Tavion to the People’s House. pic.twitter.com/LLjWUoZYav
— Congressman Chris Pappas (@RepChrisPappas) February 3, 2019
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) proudly announced that she would be bringing a transgender staff sergeant in the Air Force, the same person she fought for when the Department of Defense originally announced the ban last year.
Last April, I asked Sec Mattis whether he would thought courageous trans servicemembers like AF Staff Sgt Ireland are a "burden" on our military. This year I'm proud to have Staff Sgt Ireland as my guest of honor at the #SOTU. He’s proof that our #trans troops make us stronger! pic.twitter.com/TAj3sOeXwU
— Jackie Speier (@RepSpeier) February 1, 2019
Gun Violence Victims and Activists
The State of the Union on Tuesday is just over a week before the one year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Highschool in Parkland, Florida, the shooting that changed the gun control conversation and sparked a national movement.
Many of those affected by that shooting and others will be in attendance Tuesday evening.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) is inviting Cameron Kasky, one of the original Parkland student founders of the anti-gun violence group March For Our Lives.
After 6 yrs of working in Congress to end gun violence, I was losing faith. Moments of silence were never followed by action. But something changed after the Parkland tragedy. The surviving students used their voices to inspire change. That’s why my #SOTU guest is @cameron_kasky
— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) February 1, 2019
Sen Rick Scot (D-Fla.) is bringing Andrew Pollack who lost his young daughter, Meadow, in the Parkland shooting last year.
Since the shooting in Parkland last year, I have gotten to know @AndrewPollackFL and his family, and I have been humbled to see their dedication to improving our state in honor of his daughter, Meadow. I’m honored to have him as my guest at the #SOTU tomorrow night.
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) February 4, 2019
Multiple other gun violence victims and activists will be in attendance, specifically those involved with March For Our Lives around the country.
One of Trump’s biggest talking points in Tuesday’s address is sure to be immigration. Trump is pushing for a border wall and overall tougher action on undocumented immigrants.
Democrats are hoping to uplift immigrants and their stories by bringing them along to the State of the Union.
Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) is making a bold move by not only bringing along an immigrant but the woman who was the former housekeeper for the president. Sandra Diaz was one of the multiple undocumented workers at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Diaz claims she eventually quit her position due to the physical and verbal abuse and threats of deportation by the supervisors at the club.
Sandra Diaz — one of Trump’s former housekeepers — will be my #SOTU guest.
When I first met Sandra, I was inspired by her story & courage. It’s no small feat for a migrant from Costa Rica to stand up to a bully & hypocrite in the @WhiteHouse.
— Rep. Jimmy Gomez (@RepJimmyGomez) February 2, 2019
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) is in a unique position. As an immigrant and refugee from Somalia herself, the freshman congresswoman is bringing along someone with a similar story. She selected Linda Clark, an immigrant from Liberia who is threatened with deportation under the Deferred Enforcement Departure for Liberian Americans.
My #SOTU guest will be Linda Clark, an immigrant from Liberia who has lived in the U.S. for almost 2 decades. Yet Trump is threatening to deport her and thousands of Liberians for no reason other than hate. ?????? pic.twitter.com/k4ioJketvz
— Rep. Ilhan Omar (@Ilhan) February 4, 2019
There will be at least another six Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients in attendance at this year’s SOTU. One of them is Jin Park, the first DACA recipient to become a Rhodes Scholar. He will be the guest for Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.).
First Dreamer to become a Rhodes scholar, Jin Park of Queens, will attend #SOTU as Rep. Grace Meng's guest. Park is a DACA recipient, but fears going to Oxford to study because he might not be able to return. pic.twitter.com/y6wLaXQltT
— Michael McAuliff (@mmcauliff) January 31, 2019
Government Shutdown Workers
In a normal year, the State of the Union would’ve taken place last Tuesday. But this year, it was delayed following the longest government shutdown in American history and a scuffle between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the date of the address.
Now Democrats are bringing both federal employees that missed their paychecks and federal contractors who will never see the money they lost.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) is bringing a federal contractor from his state. Van Hollen is one of the lawmakers leading the charge on making sure contractors get back pay during a shutdown.
My #SOTU guest? Maryland’s own Lila Johnson. Ms. Johnson has worked as a cleaning services contractor at @USDA for 21 years, and right now she gets no back pay from the shutdown. I’m working to change that, and I hope her story will inspire my colleagues and the President to act. pic.twitter.com/MkFkTB0nwT
— Chris Van Hollen (@ChrisVanHollen) February 4, 2019
On the last day of the shutdown, planes were grounded and delayed all over the country due to a shortage of air traffic controllers showing up to work. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) invited one of those air traffic controllers as his official SOTU guest.
Honored to have a constituent and proud air traffic controller, Shyan Lasater-Bailey join me as my #SOTU guest. Shyan was one of the 800,000 federal workers affected by the recent #TrumpShutdown. She worked hard, including working overtime hours, for 35 days without pay. pic.twitter.com/9UJtemxooM
— Mark Takano (@RepMarkTakano) February 4, 2019
In all, there will be at least 11 SOTU guests that were negatively affected by the shutdown.
There will be plenty more guests whose very presence make a political statement, form sexual assault survivors to citizens with pre-existing conditions. Republicans are playing the game as well. President Trump and first lady Melania Trump are bringing along an extensive guest list of their own.