WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump is following the playbook for speeches to Congress and packing his guest box with individuals whose personal stories the administration hopes will put a face on the proposals he planned to highlight in Tuesday night’s address, namely illegal immigration.
The lives of three of the eight people the White House invited to join first lady Melania Trump in a guest box high above the House floor for Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress were affected when loved ones’ crossed paths with people who were living in the U.S. illegally.
Other guests appear to have been chosen to highlight Trump themes of entrepreneurship, school choice and conservatism on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sitting with Mrs. Trump will be Jessica Davis and Susan Oliver, whose husbands, California law enforcement officers Michael Davis Jr. and Danny Oliver, were killed in the line of duty in 2014 by a man living in the country illegally. The men are namesakes of a bill aimed at stricter enforcement of immigration law that was introduced in the previous Congress. Jeff Sessions, now the U.S. attorney general, sponsored the bill when he served in the Senate.
Jamiel Shaw Sr.’s son, a high school football player, was shot and killed in 2008 in California by a person living in the country illegally. Shaw spoke at many of Trump’s campaign rallies and delivered a searing speech about his son at last summer’s Republican National Convention.
Trump opened his presidential campaign vowing to crack down on illegal immigration and build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Millions of people living in the U.S. illegally also could be targeted for deportation under a rewrite of immigration enforcement policy recently announced by the Department of Homeland Security. Previously, immigrants whose only violation was being in the country illegally were generally left alone.
Trump’s remaining guests include Denisha Merriweather, who was a supporter of 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush. Trump mocked Bush mercilessly during the campaign as “low energy” before the former Florida governor failed to place in the early primary contests and bowed out of the race. Merriweather has written about how her life changed after she used the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program to attend a private high school. Trump supports expanding such “voucher” programs to give parents more choices about where to send their children to school.
Another guest is Megan Crowley, who at 15 months old was diagnosed with Pompe Disease, a rare and deadly inherited muscle-weakening condition. Crowley wasn’t expected to live more than a few years until her father founded a pharmaceutical company that helped develop a drug that kept her alive. Her story has been chronicled extensively by The Wall Street Journal. She is now 20, according to the White House, and a sophomore at Notre Dame.
Also sitting in the guest box will be Jessica Gregory and her mother, Sheila Gregory. The White House identified the 18-year-old as a Maryland honor student who was diagnosed at birth with spina bifida, a defect affecting the spinal cord, and has undergone 11 operations at a Washington children’s hospital.
Rounding out the guest list is Maureen McCarthy Scalia, widow of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. She was at the White House audience last month when Trump announced he had chosen federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy on the high court.
Although Trump’s speech technically is not a State of the Union address, President Ronald Reagan in 1982 started the tradition of seating people deemed worthy of special recognition with the first lady.
“It’s pretty obvious the reason that most of them are there,” Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said about the guests. Trump met with them as a group in the Oval Office, Sanders said.
In contrast to the administration’s guests, some congressional Democrats have invited immigrants and foreigners as their guests in an attempt to put a face on those who could be hurt by Trump’s policies.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.