WASHINGTON — Invited guests of the president and first lady at the State of the Union – like the family of Tyre Nichols and U2 lead singer Bono – may grab much of the attention tonight.
But each member of Congress can also invite a guest to sit in the chamber, and they often make their choices to make political statements or draw attention to their legislation.
Here’s a look at some of the invitees of different members of Congress:
- The former House speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), will be joined by Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, a former Capitol Police officer who defended the building during the Jan. 6, 2021, attacks. Gonell came to the U.S. as a child from the Dominican Republic. He previously served in the U.S. Army, joining the Capitol Police after. Pellosi called Gonell a “champion of Democracy” and “an American hero,” in a statement. “On January 6, 2021, he put his own life on the line as he courageously protected the Capitol, the Congress and the Constitution from a deadly siege.”
- Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) is hosting Andre Locke Sr., the father of Amir Locke, who was killed by Minneapolis police officers on Feb. 2, 2022. The congresswoman aims to highlight the Amir Locke End Deadly No-Knock Warrants Act, which she will introduce later this week. The bill will prohibit the use of no-knock warrants that Omar said are largely based to prevent “the destruction of drug evidence.”
“Too many parents have lost their children to police violence. Far too often, no-knock warrants and raids have severe and deadly consequences,” Omar said in a statement.
- Embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) is bringing former volunteer firefighter Michael Weinstock, who was a first responder during the Sept. 11 attacks. In the days following the attacks, he cleared rubble, looking for survivors. Weinstock was recently diagnosed with a neurological condition that he attributes to his work at Ground Zero after 9/11.
“Michael’s story is one of heroism, but also one as a survivor who is advocating not just for himself but for fellow firefighters, and medical emergency responders,” Santos said in a statement. Weinstock, a lawyer and Democrat who ran for Santos’s House seat in 2020, has also faced backlash from his own community for accepting the invitation: Weinstock said his law firm fired him over his decision.
This invitation comes after accusations against Santos’s claim that his mother, Fatima Devolder, died of cancer caused by the Sept. 11 attacks, an assertion that has been refuted. Despite Weinstock’s and Santos’s political differences, Weinstock hopes his presence will draw attention to firefighters with neurological conditions. “I am a proud Democrat and Congressman Santos is equally proud to be a member of the GOP. Tonight, however, we speak with a unified voice, and we encourage the World Trade Center Health Program to include neuropathy as a ‘covered condition,’” Weinstock said.
- Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) has invited Maj. Gen. Michael Turley, adjunct general of the Utah National Guard. “The Utah National Guard embodies our state’s core values of patriotism and dedication to service,” Romney said. “Under the leadership of Major General Turley, these outstanding men and women have answered the call of duty to protect Utahns and Americans in times of emergency and responded valiantly to threats around the world.”
- Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) will be joined by Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren. The senator said in a statement that Nygren has helped “to boost economic opportunities, expand access to clean and reliable drinking water, fix and upgrade roads and much more.” Kelly said the invitation highlights his intention to continue promoting respect to tribal sovereignty as well as ensuring that Navajos “receive their fair share of resources and support from the federal government.”
- Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) will host Rachelle Pellissier, the executive director of Crisis Support Services of Nevada. Cortez Masto cited Pellissier’s work to help implement the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. “I’ll continue working hand-in-hand with Nevada to ensure that our families get the care and resources they need,” the senator said.
- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) invited Lt. Levi Beaird, a Navy veteran from Texas who was threatened with a discharge after refusing the COVID-19 vaccine, asking instead for a religious accommodation. A court ultimately sided with Beaird. Beaird hopes his presence tonight will highlight “the more than 60,000 military personel who faced consequences after refusing” the vaccine, according to the Epoch Times, an outlet that has espoused right-wing theories.