One thing we do know is that Obama will not be breaking with the tradition of inviting guests who highlight specific aspects of his agenda. This year there will be 23 people watching the president’s address with Michelle Obama, and a 24th chair left empty for the victims of gun violence in America.
Among the president’s guests are a DREAMer, a gay rights activist and a Syrian refugee. Several veterans and active-duty service members — including the Air Force staff sergeant who helped tackle a gunman on a train bound for Paris last summer — will watch from the first lady’s box as well.
Last week, Congress members Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida encouraged their colleagues to invite Muslim-Americans to the speech in a symbolic “stand against hate.”
Two members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations accepted invitations to attend, upsetting at least one Republican presidential candidate.
“Let’s go ahead and investigate the thing,” Ben Carson said. “Let’s not be giving them access to the ability to further carry on what they call a civilization jihad, and to change us from a Judeo-Christian foundation to a Muslim foundation. We have got to be smarter than that.”
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has invited a preschooler who raised $1,300 to to send Christmas gifts to service members stationed overseas during the holidays, six “poverty fighters” from cities around the country, and two sisters from an order of nuns who oppose the Affordable Care Act.
Kim Davis — the Kentucky clerk who went to jail rather than grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples — and her lawyer Mathew Staver will attend the address as well, though neither of them is saying which member of Congress invited them.
Staver told Politico, “It’s not about the member, per se, as it is about what the member wanted to represent.”