Guests and boycotts of Trump’s 2018 State of the Union address

Who will fill the seats this year?
Who will fill the seats this year?
Image: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
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A man is known by the company he keeps. For a preview of Donald Trump’s talking points during his State of the Union address tonight, look at his guest list.

There’s the Ohio welder who can now save money for his kids’ education, and the manufacturers who gave their employees a Christmas bonus—thanks to the tax bill Trump signed last year. The parents of MS-13 victims, and the ICE agent who investigates members of the vicious gang, help Trump make his case for extra border security and immigration enforcement. And the police officer who adopted the child of drug addicts might help the president frame his slow-starting campaign against the opioid epidemic in a better light.

In silent response, Congress members in the audience, too, will have a chance to make political points—and often protest—through their own choice of guest.

Here’s an abridged roster of invitees, organized by the cause they symbolize.


The Trump administration has sought to cut the number of immigrants in the US by targeting a variety of immigrant populations. Nearly all of those groups will be represented by a guest attending the State of the Union.

Several Democrats, including senators Kamala Harris and Dick Durbin, will be accompanied by Dreamers, the undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children. Their fate is up in the air after Trump ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which protected them from deportation.

At least one Congress member, Democrat Jacky Rosen from Nevada, will bring a recipient of temporary protected status, or TPS, a program that gives people from catastrophe-stricken nations permission to stay in the US. Earlier this year, the Trump administration ended TPS protections for Salvadorans, and last year for Haitians and Nicaraguans. Rosen’s guest, Nery Martinez, is from El Salvador.

Other politicians will seek to bring attention to the growing number of deportations of undocumented immigrants with no criminal record under Trump. Michigan representative Debbie Dingell, invited Cindy Garcia, the wife of one such immigrant. Her husband Jorge Garcia was deported after living in the US for 30 years, and would have been a low priority for deportation under the Obama administration.


The movement to denounce sexual harassment and abuse against women will also be represented. Democratic representative Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire invited Chessy Prout, a sexual assault survivor. Another Democrat, Brenda Lawrence of Michigan, will bring historian Danielle McGuire, who wrote about the unavenged rape of Recy Taylor.

Lawrence and other Democratic congresswomen will be wearing black to support the fight against sexual harassment.

Transgender rights

Congress member Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts will be accompanied by Patricia King, a transgender soldier. Expect Kennedy, who will offer the Democrats’ response to Trump’s speech, to condemn Trump’s proposed ban on transgender people serving in the military.

Puerto Rico

Several Congress members chose to put the spotlight on Puerto Rico, which is still very much in need of recovery funds after being ravaged by Hurricane Maria. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, invited San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a sharp critic of the Trump administration’s response to the disaster.

Other Congress members, including Democratic representative Stephanie Murphy of Florida, will arrive with Puerto Ricans who were displaced to the continental United States by the hurricane.

The economy

A handful of Republicans are seeking to focus on the economy by inviting business owners. Michigan representative John Moolenaar will bring Greg “Ryno” Rynearson, a former police officer who owns a small bakery chain called Cops and Doughnuts.

Representative Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, is sending a dual message with his guest: Tommy Fisher is the president of one of the construction companies chosen to build prototypes for Trump’s long-promised border wall between the US and Mexico. Tennessee representative Chuck Fleischmann, meanwhile, is bringing Loong Yong, a Malaysian immigrant who owns an engineering firm, whom Fleischmann calls “a great American success story.”

Other issues

There will be at least a couple of statements on violence. Representative Elise Stefanik, a Republican of New York, invited Sarah Pratt, the daughter of a police officer who was killed on the job. Representative Dan Kildee, a Democrat from Michigan, is coming with activist and pastor Jeffery Hawkins, whose two sons were killed with guns.

Bill Nye “the Science Guy” will be the guest of Republican representative Jim Bridenstine, from Oklahoma. Bridenstine was a staunch climate change denier until he was nominated to lead NASA, and has since found Nye’s support.

Representative Charlie Crist, a Florida Democrat, will show up with medical marijuana patient Dani Hall to protest the Department of Justice’s decision to empower US prosecutors to go after the marijuana trade in states where pot has been legalized.

No shows

Others politicians will make their statements by boycotting the address altogether. At least 11 Democratic members of Congress announced they won’t show up. Several, including Georgia representative and civil rights icon John Lewis were spurred by Trump’s alleged racist comments about Africa and Haiti earlier this month. Others, such as Illinois representative Jan Schakowsky object to the president’s behavior in general.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will also be skipping the speech. Though she didn’t miss a single State of the Union during Obama’s eight years, the judge happens to be scheduled to speak in Rhode Island tomorrow.