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Congress invites State of the Union guests who embody 2014’s politics

President Obama delivers his State of the Union address.Members of Congress will bring guests to the annual address, highlighting the issues they plan to pursue in 2014. Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images

When the president takes the podium Tuesday to address the state of our nation, he will likely highlight the guests sitting alongside the first lady, who will include survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing, the CEO of General Motors, and the first professional male athlete to come out as openly gay.

Members of Congress are also allowed to bring a guest to the State of the Union, and members often choose to bring people who embody issues that highlight each party’s priorities for the coming year.

On the Republican side, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R- Wash., who will deliver the Republican rebuttal this evening, encouraged her fellow party members to invite constituents “who are being left behind by this President’s policies.” Roll Call’s Emma Durmain reported that inviting guests who represent a theme in political discourse is a common practice. However, McMorris encouraged members to invite struggling mothers, seniors, and young students. Durmain pointed out, “For leadership to encourage members to invite guests of a certain demographic, however, is more unusual.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R.- Ohio, announced Tuesday that his guests will include employers from Ohio who are “struggling under the president’s health care law.”

“These men and women have one important thing in common: the president’s health care law is making it harder for them to hire,” said Boehner.. “Their presence at the State of the Union is one way to help ensure their stories are told.” Politico’s Seung Min Kim reported that at least 12 other Republicans will bring constituents affected by the Affordable Care Act.

Rep. Jim Bridenstein, R-Okla., will bring a guest who he says has suffered due to the president’s failed foreign policy. Charles Woods’
son Ty died while serving as a Navy Seal in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi. Bridenstein said he hopes Woods’ presence will highlight the importance of establishing a select House committee to investigate the attack.

The Affordable Care Act will also be a theme among guests of Democratic lawmakers. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., will bring Martin West, a moderate Republican and small business owner who saw his family’s premiums decrease after signing up for health coverage on Healthcare.gov.

Democratic lawmakers also encouraged their colleagues to invite constituents whose unemployment insurance expired on Dec. 28. Rep. Mark Pocan, D.- Wisc., and Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D.- Calif., wrote to their fellow Democrats saying that “few issues are more pressing than the need to extend long-term unemployment insurance.” The congressmen added that the State of the Union is “an opportunity for us to put a face on this issue.”

Other Democrats are hoping for a renewed push for immigration reform in 2014. Members of the Illinois delegation each invited immigration activists, including one undocumented worker. “This year, we joined together to invite people whose stories illustrate the importance of immigration reform and to make clear that passing comprehensive immigration reform should be at the top of the to-do list,” wrote the representatives.

Some familiar faces from outside of Capitol Hill will also be present in the House of Representatives on Tuesday. Willie Robertson, star of the popular television show “Duck Dynasty,” will join Louisiana Republican Vance McAllister. Fox News host Sean Hannity will attend as a guest of Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, who has guest-hosted Hannity’s program. Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who claimed to be victim of political retribution from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the George Washington Bridge scandal, will also attend the speech. New Jersey Democratic Congressman Bill Pascrell said Sokolich was not selected as his guest because of the scandal but said, “He did exhibit a stand-up attitude [on the bridge issue].”

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