State of the union: Dreamers, Trump critics and #MeToo will be in audience

Lauren Gambino in Washington
In keeping with tradition, the White House and congressional lawmakers have invited guests to help punctuate a political point. Photograph: J David Ake/AP

Donald Trump will deliver his first state of the union address on Tuesday night, but he won’t be the only making a statement.

In the audience to hear Trump’s speech live will be immigrants who fear for their future and business owners whose outlook has never been brighter; a soldier who may be barred from serving on the basis of her identity and members of the military who overcame adversity to serve; first responders who saved lives during a spate of natural disasters and a mayor who criticized the response to her hurricane-ravaged island.

In keeping with tradition, the White House and congressional lawmakers have invited guests to help punctuate a political point.

Trump’s guests include a welder who has benefited from the Republicans’ tax overhaul, a police officer who adopted a child from parents addicted to opioids, and the parents of teenagers who are believed to have been killed by MS-13 gang members.

“Some of these individuals’ stories are heroic, some are patriotic, others are tragic but all of them represent the unbreakable American spirit and will continue to inspire our nation to grow stronger, prouder and more prosperous,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, announcing the guest list at a press briefing on Monday.

The guests will be seated in the box of the first lady, Melania Trump, during the address.

Daca recipients and supporters protest outside Disneyland in Anaheim, California on 22 January 2018. Photograph: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Also in the audience will be more than two dozen Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children and whose legal status was made vulnerable when Trump ended a program shielding them from deportation. They are the guests of Democratic lawmakers including House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, and at least one Republican congressman, Carlos Curbelo of Florida.

As Congress rushes to draft an immigration deal that pairs protections for Dreamers with funding for enhanced border enforcement and changes to family-based immigration policies, several lawmakers will highlight the urgency of the issue with their guests. Senator Dick Durbin, a longtime champion of the dreamers, will bring Daca recipient and medical student Cesar Montelongo.

“I hope Cesar’s presence reminds President Trump what’s at stake in the debate over Daca,” senator Dick Durbin said. “The lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent young people who want to contribute to our country’s future.”

(August 16, 2015) 

Upon announcing his presidential bid Donald Trump makes hardline immigration reform central to his campaign and pledges to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca).

“I will immediately terminate President Obama’s illegal executive order on immigration,” he says.

(December 7, 2016) 

Weeks after winning the White House, ​​President-elect Trump appears to soften his stance on Dreamers. Despite offering no specific policy he promises to “work something out”.

“On a humanitarian basis it’s a very tough situation.” he tells T​​ime magazine.

(February 16, 2017) 

Trump acknowledges the fraught road to a solution, describing Daca as a “very difficult thing for me as I love these kids”.

“I have to deal with a lot of politicians,” Trump says. “And I have to convince them that what I’m saying is right.”

(February 5, 2017) 

Trump abruptly announces ​​he will end Daca, phasing out applications for renewal by March 2018. ​​The president insists the decision provides a “window of opportunity for Congress to finally act”.

(September 14, 2017) 

Following talks with Democrats, Trump hints a deal may be close, but suggests it wouldn’t include a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.

“We’re not looking at citizenship. We’re not looking at amnesty,” Trump tells reporters.

(January 9, 2018) 

Trump promises to “take the heat” for a bipartisan Daca bill being brokered by senators. But within days he revokes his support, calling the bipartisan plan “a big step backwards”.​ The US government shuts down after negotiations over the budget and a Dreamers solution collapse.

(January 24, 2018) 

With the government reopened with a temporary bill, Trump tells reporters he is now open to a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers “over a period of 10-12 years” if the individual “does a great job, they work hard​”.

The other major theme of the night is the #MeToo movement, which has roiled Washington. Nearly a dozen lawmakers will bring victims of sexual assault or women activists. Democratic congresswoman Lois Frankel asked female members to wear black in a display of solidarity with victims of sexual harassment and assault. Last month, celebrities wore black to the Golden Globe ceremony to show support for the #MeToo movement, which started with a series of dramatic revelations about Hollywood film mogul Harvey Weinstein and has ricocheted across industries.

Allegations of sexual harassment have rocked Capitol Hill in recent months, forcing the resignations and retirements of lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle. The allegations have also prompted calls for reforms to the way sexual assault and harassment is reported and the use of public taxpayer money to settle workplace disputes.

Other notable guests include San Juan’s mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, who emerged as a fierce critic of the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria, which struck the island in September. She will attend as the guest of Democratic senator Kirsten Gillibrand from New York. Congressman Kevin Yoder, a Republican of Kansas, said he will bring Sunayana Dumala, the widow of an Indian immigrant killed in a hate crime shooting.

Congressman Mark Pocan, a progressive Democrat from Wisconsin, will bring Randy Bryce, a Democrat challenging House speaker Paul Ryan for his seat. Despite long odds of unseating Ryan, the union ironworker nicknamed “Iron Stache” has caught the attention of the liberal grassroots.

Congressman Joe Kennedy, who will deliver the Democratic rebuttal to the state of the union, will bring a transgender soldier to protest a ban put in place by the Trump administration banning transgender people from serving in the military. A court has blocked the ban but the future is uncertain.

Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton, a Democrat, will bring a Salvadoran immigrant who is unsure if he will be able to remain in the country since the Trump administration ended a humanitarian program that himself and nearly 200,000 people from El Salvador to live in the US.

And perhaps the least obvious pairing is Republican Congressman Jim Bridenstine, Trump’s nominee to serve as the next administrator of Nasa, and Bill Nye the Science Guy, a critic of the administration’s environmental policies. Prior to his nomination, the congressman doubted the role humans played in climate change but he said during a Senate hearing that his thinking has evolved.

Meanwhile, a handful of Democratic lawmakers have announced they will boycott the address. Representatives Earl Blumenauer of Oregon announced that his seat will instead be filled by Aldo Solano, a Daca recipient.

“Trump’s disastrous policies have destroyed lives and impact real people who call our country home. We can’t let Aldo down,” Blumenauer said on Twitter. Others members who have announced their intention to boycott include John Lewis of Georgia, Frederica Wilson of Florida, Maxine Waters of California and Pramila Jayapal of Washington.

In addition to Kennedy’s rebuttal, Virginia delegate Elizabeth Guzman will provide an official Democratic response in Spanish while three progressive members of the party will offer their own retrot: senator Bernie Sanders; Waters on BET; and former Maryland congresswoman Donna Edwards, on behalf of the Working Families Party.