President Barack Obama may be the only one with an open mic during Tuesday’s State of the Union address, but members of Congress are surrounding themselves with guests who speak volumes about their personal priorities.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are rolling out the red carpet for flesh-and-blood political statements from all walks of life, including:
Budding Politicos Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has invited 11-year-old Zev Dickstein, an aspiring political activist, to accompany her to the speech. Per Warren’s office, Dickstein began volunteering on political campaigns two years ago and has already served as campaign manager for a committee race at Cambridge Street Upper School in Cambridge, Mass.
Combat Veterans Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, has invited retired Marine Staff Sgt. Johnny ”Joey” Jones to accompany him to the speech. Jones, who lost the majority of both of his legs while disarming improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan, now assists a slew of veteran-aiding organizations (Boot Campaign, Armed Forces Foundation, Boulder Crest Retreat for Wounded Warriors).
Food Insecurity Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., has invited Witnesses to Hunger member Tianna Gaines-Turner to accompany him during the speech. The working mom and advocate is part of a network of cash-strapped Americans on the front lines of the war against hunger. A Witness to Hunger aide said Casey has been a staunch supporter for years, helping the group organize an exhibition of members’ photos in the Russell Rotunda as well as back home in Pennsylvania.
Forestry Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., has invited former lumber mill operator Jennifer Phillippi to accompany him during the speech. As the owner of the now-shuttered Rough and Ready Lumber operation, Phillippi remains out of work due to a shortage of raw materials. According to Walden, the Senate could provide some relief by acting on a languishing bill the House approved last fall. Immigration Illinois Democrats Bill Foster, Luis V. Gutierrez, Mike Quigley, Jan Schakowsky and Brad Schneider have invited various members of the pro-immigration overhaul community to accompany them during the speech. Foster is bringing Maria Torres, an undocumented activist who helps fellow immigrants; Gutierrez is bringing Tony Suárez, a leader within the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Quigley is bringing Ameya Pawar, a first-generation immigrant who has become Chicago’s first Asian-American alderman; Schakowsky is bringing Rudy Lopez, a leader within the Fair Immigration Reform Movement; Schneider is bringing Estefania Garcia, a DREAMer candidate with a college degree and a job.
Sex Trafficking Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., has invited Breaking Free Executive Director Vednita Carter to accompany him during the speech. In addition to founding and running a non-profit dedicated to halting the exploitation of women, Carter has circled the globe to combat prostitution, commercial sex and the enslavement of women and girls.
The Unemployed House Democrats Joe Courtney of Connecticut, Danny K. Davis of Illinois, Rush D. Holt of New Jersey, Steven Horsford of Nevada, Sander M. Levin of Michigan, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Alan Lowenthal of California and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin have all invited out-of-work Americans in desperate need of unemployment benefits to accompany them. Each lawmaker recruited a constituent from their respective districts except for Davis, who is bringing a local activist from Capital Heights, Md., instead.