The floor belongs to Donald Trump for around an hour, maybe more, but the crowd can still speak volumes.
The lawmakers squeezed into the House chamber on Tuesday night probably won’t be yelling back as the president tells them that the state of the union is strong. (Joe Wilson, of “You lie” fame, already tried that with Barack Obama.)
Instead, they’ll be going the nonverbal route. They can grimace. They can stand. They can roll their eyes, wear all white, or pointedly withhold applause.
And they can inject their own policy priorities into the stifled proceedings through their invited guests.
In the grand tradition of tweaking the executive in power, Democrats have filled the invite list with some not-so-subtle rebukes to Trump. Here are three of the most cutting picks:
Trump will likely use his speech to argue once again that a southern border wall is needed because immigrants pose a threat to national security. Watching from the House chambers will be two of his former employees, both immigrants who worked for Trump without legal status.
Victorina Morales and Sandra Diaz were housekeepers at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Diaz is now a legal resident, while Morales remains undocumented.
“I’ve invited Victorina so that he may look her in her eyes to tell his lies to a familiar face,” Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman said in a statement.
California Rep. Jimmy Gomez called Diaz “living proof” that Trump “couldn’t be more wrong” when he paints undocumented immigrants as an existential danger. The women embody the pursuit of the American dream, the lawmakers said.
The State of the Union comes as new details emerge about the ramifications of the Trump administration’s family separation policy at the border.
Both New York Rep. Adriano Espaillat and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley will be accompanied by Guatemalan mothers, Yeni Gonzalez Garcia and Albertina Contreras Teletor, who endured long periods of separation from their children after they sought asylum in the U.S.
“This child separation policy came from a dark and evil place within the heart of this administration,” Merkley said in a statement. He will also host Albertina’s 12-year-old daughter, who spent time in a child detention center.
In 2018, Albertina and her 11-year-old daughter Yakelin were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. Yakelin spent nearly two months in a child detention center before being reunited with her mother.On Tuesday, they will be my guests for #SOTU2019. https://t.co/Zb0RbRxpxa — Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) February 1, 2019
“We must bear witness to the suffering” that the policy inflicted, Merkley added.
The unpaid masses
If a House and Senate panel doesn’t reach a deal by Feb. 15, the government could be looking at another partial shutdown. Meanwhile, low- and middle-income contractors — including food service workers, janitorial staff and security guards — are still waiting to be compensated for the paychecks they missed during the shutdown last month.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland wants to keep that issue in the spotlight Tuesday night. He’s invited Lila Johnson, a grandmother and the primary breadwinner in her household. Johnson has worked as a general cleaning services contractor at the U.S. Department of Agriculture for more than two decades, according to the senator. As it stands, Johnson will not receive compensation for the 35 days the government was partially shuttered.
Van Hollen and Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota have introduced legislation that would help extend back pay to those low-wage federal contractors.
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
Watch: SOTU: A brief history