Lawmakers invite shooting victims’ families to Obama’s annual address

Lawmakers invite shooting victims’ families to Obama’s annual address

Lawmakers are lining up their dates for Tuesday’s State of the Union address, but it’s their guests who may get more attention.

Several lawmakers have invited the family members of shooting victims to listen to President Obama lay out his agenda for his second term, which is expected to include a call for stricter gun control laws.

Joining the lawmakers’ guests will be the parents of 15-year-old Chicago shooting victim Hadiya Pendleton. Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton and Nathaniel Pendleton will be seated in first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaMichelle Obama book tour fetching steep ticket prices Michelle Obama warns against voter apathy in new PSA Michelle Obama adds dates to book tour 'due to overwhelming fan demand' MORE’s box, according to a White House official. Hadiya Pendleton, who performed at the president’s inauguration, was shot and killed in Chicago last month. The first lady attended her funeral on Saturday.

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One of the nation’s most high-profile shooting victims, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), will attend, along with her husband, Capt. Mark Kelly, as the guest of Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump hits McCain on ObamaCare vote GOP, White House start playing midterm blame game Arizona race becomes Senate GOP’s ‘firewall’ MORE (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Ron BarberRonald (Ron) Sylvester BarberKavanaugh nomination a make or break moment to repeal Citizens United Latina Leaders to Watch 2018 Principles and actions mean more than Jeff Flake’s words MORE (D-Ariz.), who replaced her in Congress, according to a Giffords aide.

Giffords and Kelly have established a political action committee, Americans for Responsible Solutions, dedicated to reducing gun violence. Giffords was shot in the head at a Tucson constituent meeting in 2011.

Meanwhile, several Democratic lawmakers have invited someone affected by a gun tragedy as their guest to the speech. 

Reps. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), Carolyn McCarthyCarolyn McCarthyWhy Congress needs an openly atheist member, now Lobbying World Lobbying world MORE (D-N.Y.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) are leading the effort, and will hold a press conference with Mayors Against Illegal Guns on Tuesday afternoon.

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) is bringing Theresa Hoover, whose son was killed in the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting in 2012, while Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is bringing Emily Nottingham, whose son was killed in the Tucson, Ariz., shooting.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced last week that a mother and daughter from Newtown, Conn., would be her guests at the speech.

Pelosi received a letter from the girl, who does not attend Sandy Hook Elementary School — the site of the December shooting that resulted in the deaths of 27 people, including 20 children — and invited her and her mother to the speech.

Other lawmakers are busy lining up their “dates,” which is what members have nicknamed the bipartisan seating arrangement that has taken place at the last two State of the Union addresses. 

Sen. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallRecord number of LGBT candidates running for governor Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Democratic primary could upend bid for Colorado seat MORE (D-Colo.) came up with the idea in 2011 in response to the Tucson shootings, and several lawmakers stepped across the aisle to sit with members from the other party.

For the past two years, several lawmakers have tweeted and announced their dates in the days leading up to the address, but that hasn’t been the case this year.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMurkowski says she’ll wait until Ford testifies before making decision on Kavanaugh Alaska gov, lieutenant gov come out against Kavanaugh The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh MORE (R-Alaska), who has joined Udall in calling for the bipartisan seating, said she isn’t worried.

“I don’t think you’re seeing as many of the advance notice of the dates,” she said, because it’s becoming normal for lawmakers to sit that way. “And my hope, and I think Sen. Udall shares this, [is that] we get to the point we just don’t even think about it on State of the Union.”

She added: “I think it will just be kind of the natural inclination when you get in there, kind of look around and say ‘Where do I want to be and who haven’t I talked to recently?’ ” 

Murkowski will be sitting with Udall, as she did last year. 

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskill'Kavanaugh' chants erupt at Trump rally in Missouri The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh, accuser say they’re prepared to testify Drug companies will love Trump's plan to get rid of drug rebates — the consumers will hate it MORE (D-Mo.) invited freshman Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerEPA signs off on rule exempting farmers from reporting emissions GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE The real reason Scott Pruitt is gone: Putting a key voting bloc at risk MORE (R-Neb.) to be her “date,” although there’ll be “no corsage,” she quipped to The Hill.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinCook Political Report moves Texas Senate race to ‘toss-up’ The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh McCaskill to oppose Kavanaugh nomination MORE (D-W.Va.) will be sitting with his good friend Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThis week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill Trump attending Senate GOP lunch Tuesday High stakes as Trump heads to Hill MORE (R-Ill). The two were supposed to sit together for the speech in 2012, but Kirk missed the address as he was recovering from a stroke.

Sen. Mark BegichMark Peter BegichElection Countdown: Trump plans ambitious travel schedule for midterms | Republicans blast strategy for keeping House | Poll shows Menendez race tightening | Cook Report shifts Duncan Hunter's seat after indictment The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s legal jeopardy mounts after Manafort, Cohen felony counts Dunleavy, Begich win party nods in 3-way race for Alaska governor MORE (D-Alaska) will sit with his home-state 

colleague Republican Rep. Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungElection handicapper moves 10 races toward Dems Dunleavy, Begich win party nods in 3-way race for Alaska governor Alaska congressional candidate has never visited the state: AP MORE, and Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonTrump blasts Tester at Montana rally: 'He loves the swamp' Renaming Senate office building after McCain sparks GOP backlash GOP senator warns Trump: Anyone who trash-talks McCain 'deserves a whipping' MORE (R-Ga.) is going with Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterMontana lawmakers cheer recommendation to ban mining north of Yellowstone Cook Political Report moves Texas Senate race to ‘toss-up’ Trump Jr. campaign event looks for new venue after Montana restaurant declines to host MORE (D-Mont.). Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineSherrod Brown says he's 'not actively considering' running for president The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — GOP again has momentum on Kavanaugh rollercoaster Poll: Kaine leads GOP challenger by 19 points in Va. Senate race MORE (D-Va.) is going with his Republican colleague, Rep. Randy ForbesJames (Randy) Randy ForbesToo much ‘can do,’ not enough candor Trump makes little headway filling out Pentagon jobs Why there's only one choice for Trump's Navy secretary MORE (Va.).

One thing that changed when the bipartisan seating began is the tradition among some lawmakers of holding a seat along the aisle the president walks down on his way to the podium.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) was known for marking her turf early in the day so she would be sure to get a handshake from the president and thus appear on TV. But not any more.

She said the rules have changed so that lawmakers can no longer leave their stuff in a seat early in the day and then come back later for the speech. 

“You have to actually put your buns down on the seat and stay there,” she told The Hill. “And I just have so many other responsibilities.”

She added: “And let me tell you, people are vicious there. They will get you out of there.”

It’s a tradition she says she misses.

“I would love it because my folks back home would see it and I’d wear a red jacket, and now I’ll be wearing boring black or gray.”

Taylor Seale and Alex Lazar contributed.

Staff get Capitol ready for big night

While lawmakers are organizing their guests and dates for the State of the Union, staff in the Capitol are getting the building cleaned and polished for the big night.


The Architect of the Capitol’s (AoC) office takes the lead in getting the building ready, which includes installing media stands and extra power supplies throughout the Capitol, including the House gallery, the chamber itself and Statuary Hall, where reporters wait to interview lawmakers after the address.

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In the House chamber, where lawmakers from both chambers will sit with members of the Cabinet, Supreme Court justices and other guests, the AoC adds extra seats and monitors the temperature to ensure it doesn’t get too warm with all the television lights on.

Staff also coordinate with the Secret Service, Washington Metro Police, U.S. Capitol Police and other agencies for security surrounding the event.

“After the inauguration, it really seems like a piece of cake,” Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer told The Hill of the preparations.

Gainer will be working his seventh State of the Union. He, House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers will greet President Obama when he arrives at the Capitol and take him to a holding room to await his entrance.

“You get to witness the president interact with the leaders of the House and Senate,” Gainer said of the waiting room, adding that he’s never seen a president appear nervous.

Last year’s speech holds a special memory for Gainer. It was the night of his granddaughter Catherine’s eighth birthday, and the president signed a card for her after he gave his address.

“He stopped and wrote a card to her,” Gainer said, adding that they sent the card, along with a picture of Obama signing it, to Catherine.

Gainer, Irving and Ayers are part of the group that escorts Obama into the chamber. And it’s Irving who makes the famous pronouncement: “Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States.”

He gets some practice in before the speech, when he makes the announcement a few times during a sound check to ensure the microphone levels are correct.

But he doesn’t have a warm-up routine, according to the office of the House Sergeant of Arms, because he has escort duties. 

“He really does not have time to think about it until he is standing at the main door of the House Chamber,” said a spokesman for the office.

Gainer and Irving get some of the best seats in the House on the big night.

“I watch it from about four feet away from the president,” Gainer said.

And, after the speech is done, they help bring the president out of the chamber.

“The best thing we try to do is stay out of the picture and make a hole for him when he needs to move,” Gainer noted.

“The members and the VIPs are all pretty good about this. After the speech it’s pretty jubilant.”

And when it’s all done, life in the Capitol gets back to normal. 

“You go back and take a deep breath and look at the next day’s schedule,” Gainer said.