State of the Union: Who's on the Guest Lists

The guest list for President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address reflects his presidency as he sees it.

The names of people joining First Lady Michelle Obama in her box were announced on Sunday. According to a press release, they “tell the story of the progress we have made since the president delivered his first address seven years ago.”

Each represents a cause which Obama emphasized during his presidency, such as criminal justice reform, the Affordable Care Act and gun control.

People of all ages and all walks of life were invited by the president — from Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, to everyday Americans making a difference, such as Cedric Rowland, an Affordable Care Act navigator from Chicago.

The list is also notable for who is not on it. Obama chose to leave an empty seat in the first lady’s box in honor of victims of gun violence “who no longer have a voice.”

Obama has been adamant about his desire for gun control, tearing up during a speech announcing executive actions he planned on the issue. He later said he would not campaign with candidates who do not support common-sense gun control.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was in office when the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings took place, was invited as was Ryan Reyes, an activist whose partner was killed in the recent San Bernardino shootings.

Last month, Obama made headlines when he commented on a photo of Refaai Hamo, a Syrian refugee, on the Humans of New York Facebook page.

“Welcome to your new home. You’re part of what makes America great,” Obama wrote. Hamo was invited to the address.

Hamo lived in Syria with his family until a missile tore through their home, killing his wife and one of his children. They moved to Turkey where he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. His family was eventually granted refugee status in the U.S. and now live in Troy, Michigan.

Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the marriage equality U.S. Supreme Court case, will be attending as both a guest of the first lady and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkeley, a Democrat.

Lisa Jaster, one of the first female Army Reserve officers to graduate from the Ranger School, will be attending. The 37-year-old engineer and mother of two is one of only three women to graduate from the school last year after female students were allowed to attend, the White House release said.

Many other invitees are Americans doing good things for their community.

Braeden Manning, a 12-year-old Delaware resident, was inspired to start a nonprofit to feed the homeless after he attended the White House Kids’ “State Dinner”

Mark Davis of Washington, D.C., founded a business training low-income individuals to install solar panels.

A U.S. veteran and Mexican immigrant, Oscar Vazquez of Forth Worth, Texas, excelled as a STEM student in high school. He nows works as a business analyst in a web app development team, and encourages others to pursue an education in STEM.

Whimpering in pain, bleeding from head injuries and dazed by the enormity of the crash, victims in the Amtrak train derailment south of Seattle begged 911 dispatchers for help and said "tons of people" had been hurt. Dozens of emergency recordings released Wednesday by South Sound 911 Dispatch provided a vivid account of what happened during the deadly Dec. 18 crash. "My abdomen hurts really bad. I don't feel good," said a crying woman identified as Angela who was bleeding from her head and wailed in panic each time she couldn't find an answer to a dispatcher's questions. "I don't know how old I am off the top of my head. I'm sorry!"

Obama also included people he met during his first campaign for president, such as Texas veteran Earl Smith and Edith Childs from South Carolina.

(Click here to read the full list of invitees in the first lady’s box.)

While this is Obama’s last State of the Union address, it will be the first for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in his new position.

Ryan said in a statement that his guests were “poverty fighters” from Wisconsin and around the country, such as Bishop Shirley Holloway, a Washington, D.C., resident who founded a nonprofit to help over 40,000 people dealing with addiction and homelessness.

Logan Barritt, a 4-year-old from Wisconsin, will be joining the speaker in his box. Starting with the change in his piggybank, Barritt raised $1,300 to send care packages to service members overseas.

Of the four senators currently vying for the White House, only Marco Rubio has announced a guest for the State of the Union so far. The Florida Republican tweeted a link to a local Florida news site announcing his guest as Conner MacFarlane, a college student whose father was killed in Aghanistan.

Ted Cruz, however, will be skipping the address entirely. A representative from his Senate office confirmed to NBC that the candidate was not scheduled to be in Washington on Tuesday for the event.

Other lawmakers are bringing their own guests from around the country. Each is allowed to bring one person to the annual speech.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will bring Howard Abshire, a former coal miner and Kentucky constituent.

A 9-year-old Syrian refugee will be the guest of Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat. When an airstrike hit the Syrian refugee camp where Ahmad Alkhalaf was staying, three of his siblings were killed. The young boy lost both of his arms in the attack.

Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California, has invited Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, according to NBCBLK.

Pennsylvania state trooper Alex Douglass was invited to the event by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. Douglass survived a deadly ambush on his Poconos-are barracks. 

Rep. Joe Courtney, a Democrat from Connecticut will bring Dr. Mohammed Qureshi, president of the Connecticut chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The mosque he attends was attacked after the Paris attacks last November, though no one was hurt.

Jim Harbaugh, head football coach at the University of Michigan and former San Francisco 49ers coach, was invited to attend with his wife by Michigan Reps. Justin Amash, a Republican, and Debbie Dingell, a Democrat.

The father of a news reporter who was gunned down in Washington, D.C., last year will be attending with his local delegate, Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton. Charnice Milton was shot last May by someone on a dirt bike while waiting for a bus.

Kim Davis, the county clerk from Kentucky who defied a court-order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, will be attending with her attorney. Davis visited the Capitol once before for a meeting with Pope Francis.

It is unknown which lawmaker invited Davis to the event. Liberty Counsel, which represents Davis, told MSNBC they're 'not publicizing' that information.

Obama isn't the only one who is spotlighting an empty seat. Republican Rep. Steve King, of Iowa, said his empty seat would "commemorate the lives of more than 55 million aborted babies."

King said he would skip the speech and instead be in the members chapel "praying for God to raise up a leader whom he will use to restore the Soul of America.”

Obama’s final State of the Union address will be broadcast on Tuesday, Jan. 12, at 9 p.m. ET.

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