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Lawmakers Use State of the Union Guests to Embody Talking Points

Immigration, same-sex unions, gun control, outsourcing and innovation will all be highlighted during tonight’s State of the Union address — when the camera pans to the guests who have joined lawmakers in the House chamber.

Presidents have long strived to put human faces on themes they articulate in the annual address. But now congressional invitees have become emblems of the talking points that lawmakers would like to see addressed in prime time, said James Thurber, director of American University’s Center for Congressional & Presidential Studies.

“The people symbolize the major points in [the president’s] presentation, and they select them very carefully and vet them,” Thurber said. As for Congress, “I think it’s evolved from family and close personal friends to making political statements.”

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Ill., will be making a point about immigration when he brings Gabino Sanchez, an undocumented worker, husband and father living in South Carolina who is fighting deportation proceedings. A statement released by Gutierrez’s office said the congressman “sees the case against Sanchez a test of the President’s deportation policies, and especially the guidelines … that are supposed to prioritize deportation of immigrants who have committed serious crimes like rape and murder.” Sanchez has misdemeanor charges for driving without a license.

Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., will be making a statement about American jobs by bringing Dot Turner, who was laid off from her manufacturing job at Sensata Technologies’ Freeport, Ill., plant when operations there were transferred to China. Sensata is owned by Bain Capital, the private equity firm highlighted often during President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign because of its ties to Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

“Nothing is more important to me than fighting for American workers like Dot Turner and for American manufacturing jobs like those lost at Sensata,” Bustos said in a statement. “I hope that President Obama lays out a plan that prioritizes creating good-paying jobs here at home.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is bringing second-generation steelworker Gwendolyn Hall to show the importance of workplace development. She’ll be “there to help Brown make a point: Given the right tools and training, American workers can make anything as well or better than anything else,” according to a report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s guest is a twofer — same-sex unions, immigration reform — when it comes to humanizing policy. The New York Democrat invited Kelly Costello, who may be separated from her spouse, Fabiola Morales, because the Defense of Marriage Act prevents her from sponsoring Morales’ green card application. Nadler is a sponsor of proposed legislation that would address the issue. “Kelly brings important visibility to the issue of immigration inequality,” Nadler told the Washington Blade.

As CQ Roll Call has reported, dozens of victims of gun violence, their family members and first responders will be in attendance Tuesday night as part of a coordinated effort to highlight the issue undertaken by Democratic lawmakers. Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in Tucson two years ago, is accompanying Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., a former aide also injured in the attack who now holds her seat. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has invited a fourth-grader from Newtown, Conn., where a December mass shooting claimed 26 lives, who wrote asking Congress “to ban semi automatic weapons and large capacity magazines and to make everyone use gun safes.”

Some lawmakers are keeping their guest lists more personal.

Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., is bringing the physical therapist who helped him learn how to walk again after a stroke.

In a statement, Kirk said Michael Klonowski and others at his rehabilitation center helped him shed his “glass-half-empty” attitude and believe he would walk again.

“My physical therapist, Mike Klonowski, was a tyrant and, God bless him, a great inspiration. The stroke had severely impaired my left leg, but Mike expected me to walk again. He would teach me how to do it, or we would both die trying,” Kirk wrote.

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