First lady picks final SOTU guests

Anne Wernikoff

The White House announced Tuesday that a woman who lost her unemployment insurance, a pizza chain owner, and an injured Afghan veteran were among the guests rounding out the first lady's box at the State of the Union.

The selections appeared to again underscore that the president's speech would strike a populist tone with discussions of income inequality.

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The final additions include Misty DeMars, an Illinois woman who lost her job just a week after purchasing her new home and saw her federal unemployment benefits disappear last month, and Peter Mouskondis, the CEO of a food service company that provides maternity, paternity, and bereavement leave.

The White House has said that the president will renew his call to extend the unemployment program and call for better compensation for low-wage workers in the address.

The first lady's box will also include the CEO and a kitchen worker from Punch Pizza, a Minnesota chain of restaurants who pay their workers at least $10 per hour.

The president will announce that all future federal contractors must pay their workers $10.10 per hour in his speech, with White House officials saying they hope the move will increase pressure on Congress to pass legislation matching the rate for all Americans.

Other guests include Cory Remsburg, a Purple Heart recipient left paralyzed and brain damaged by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, and his father Craig. 

The selections join more than a dozen previously announced guests, including disaster survivors, politicians, activists, business executives, and the first openly gay NBA player.

The tradition of inviting high-profile guests to the State of the Union address dates back to the presidency of Ronald Reagan and can provide a window into the themes and policy priorities the president is likely to outline.

The first such guest was Lenny Skutnik, who dove into the Potomac River to rescue a passenger from the crash of Air Florida Flight 90.

Last year, the first lady’s guests included Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old Miami voter who waited for hours to cast her ballot during the presidential election, as well as the mother and father of Hadiya Pendleton, a Chicago high school student gunned down just days after performing at the president’s inauguration.