Tonight’s State of the Union guests represent a deeply divided America

Photo of Tonight’s State of the Union guests represent a deeply divided America

President Donald Trump’s second State of the Union address tonight is supposed to focus on “unity.”

“We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future,” Trump plans to say, according to an excerpt distributed by the White House.

But the audience in the House chamber of the US Capitol tonight will reflect the country’s seemingly intractable divisions, which have deepened after two years of a Trump presidency. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, and the US president himself, have invited dozens of guests who represent some of the most polarizing issues in the United States, and the most debilitating problems the world’s largest economy faces.

US representatives, senators, and chief justices will sit on the floor of the chamber, while the guests will sit in hundreds of seats in a viewing galleries above them. While public, political displays from the galleries are verboten, Congressional aides are bracing themselves for a potentially tumultuous night, based on conversations in the halls of Congress this morning.

With their invitations, Democrats seem to be presenting a pointed rebuke of the Trump administration’s policies and shortcomings: There are multiple gun violence victims attending; asylum-seeking parents whose children were taken from them on the border with Mexico; and several transgender members of the US military.

The guests of Republicans, including Trump and first lady Melania Trump, meanwhile, are the embodiment of some of his most controversial positions: family members of murders carried out by illegal immigrants; pro-Trump police chiefs; and a boy bullied because his last name happens to be “Trump.”

Here’s a rundown of some of the most striking guests who will be in the galleries tonight:

Gun violence victims

Nearly 40,000 people were killed by gun violence in the US in 2017, the highest figure in 20 years. After pledging to the victims of the 2018 Parkland shooting that he’d do more to stop school shootings, and calling Republicans “scared” of the powerful gun lobby, Trump has not pushed for gun law reform.

Jeff Binkley, father of Maura Binkley, a 21-year old shot during a yoga class in Tallahassee, Florida in November, will be the guest of Lucy McBath, the Georgia Democratic Congresswoman whose son was fatally shot in 2012.

Cameron Kasky, survivor of the Parkland school shooting in which 17 were killed last February, will be a guest of California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell.

Andrew Pollack, father of a Parkland shooting victim, will be the guest of Sen. Rick Scott, a Florida Republican.

Fred Guttenberg, father of a Parkland shooting victim, will be the guest of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House and a California Democrat.

Alexandra Goddard, a Portland, Oregon student and anti-gun violence advocate, will be the guest of Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, a Democrat from Oregon.

Jami Amo, a survivor of the 1999 Columbine shooting and Moms Demand Action activist, will be the guest of Rep. Madeleine Dean, a Democrat from Pennsylvania.

Family separation

The Trump administration has separated thousands of asylum-seeking children from their parents at the US’s southern border, part of an attempt to dissuade Central American migrants from coming to the US. The practice has been called a “moral disaster” by childcare experts. Two children have died in US custody in recent months, and an unknown number more remain in the system.

Albertina Contreras Teletor and her daughter Yakelin Garcia Contreras, who were separated for months by the administration, will attend as the guests of Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon.

Yeni González-Garcia, who was separated from her three children on the US-Mexico border for a month and half, after fleeing gang violence in Central America, will be the guest of Adriano Espaillat, a New York Democrat, who is himself a formerly undocumented immigrant.

Regina Moller, head of Noank Community Support Services, a nonprofit that has provided shelter and services to migrant children separated from their families at the border, will be the guest of Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut.

White supremacy

Right-wing extremism, including white supremacy and anti-semitism, is on the rise in America, and all of the extremist murders in the country in 2018 were by right-wing actors. Some experts in terrorism and extremist violence believe Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric could be contributing to the rise.

Iowa representative Steve King, a Republican, was stripped of his committee assignments after wondering recently in a published interviewwhite nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?”

Judah Samet and Timothy Matson, survivors of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that killed 11 people, will be guests of first lady Melania Trump. The shooter railed online against Jews, as well as the synagogue’s practice of helping immigrants.

Lynnette Hardaway, aka “Diamond,” an African-American pro-Trump commentator, will attend as King’s guest.

Government shutdown

The federal government was partially shut for 35 days after Trump refused to sign bill to keep it open that didn’t include funding for a border wall in the last session of Congress. Some 800,000 federal employees didn’t get a paycheck for a month, and thousands more contractors were affected.

Lila Johnson, a USDA cleaning contractor who will get no back pay, will be the guest of Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland.

Shyan Lasater-Bailey, an air traffic controller who went 35 days without pay, will be the guest of Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat from California.

Sajid Shahriar, a federal worker and union leader who was furloughed from his job at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, will be the guest of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts and contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Kenneth Krebs, an EPA scientist who was furloughed during the shutdown, will be the guest of Rep. David Price, a Democrat from North Carolina.

Toby Hauck, an air traffic controller who worked without pay during the shutdown, will be the guest of Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois.


Trump and vice president Pence alleged this year that the Islamic State terrorism movement has been eradicated, just as four US soldiers were killed by an ISIS attack in Syria. Republicans and Democrats alike have been concerned by the White House’s failure to grasp the complicated situation in the Middle East.

Nadia Murad, a Yazidi human rights campaigner (and Nobel Prize winner) who was enslaved by ISIS, will be the guest of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, a Republican from Nebraska.

Kavanaugh assault accusations

The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court kicked off one of the nastiest partisan fights of the Trump presidency, after a woman testified to Congress that he had sexually assaulted her when she was 15. Apart from the serious allegations, his angry testimony denying the claims sparked questions about his general fitness for the bench. Kavanaugh was ultimately confirmed by the lowest margin since 1881, but his position on the Supreme Court bench remains controversial. Democrats have said they may investigate him for perjury.

Ana Maria Archila, a sexual assault survivor who confronted Senator Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican, about his vote in an elevator in the Capitol Building, will be the guest of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York.

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