The Calculus Behind FLOTUS’s State of the Union Guests

How do you snag a seat next to Michelle Obama at the State of the Union? Be a walking manifestation of the president’s agenda.

Wonder what issues President Obama will focus on during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address? Look no further than the first family’s personal guest list.

Ever since Lenny Skutnik, who rescued an air-crash victim from the Potomac River, was invited to sit with Nancy Reagan during her husband’s 1982 State of the Union address, the seats in the first lady’s chamber have often been given to ordinary citizens whom the president either wants to honor—or use to demonstrate the real-life implications of policy proposals. And the group of people slated to sit with Michelle tonight is no different. 

Ginger Wallace, for example, personifies the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” An openly gay Air Force intelligence officer, Wallace made news in December of 2011 when she received the rank of colonel and her partner of over 10 years participated in her “pinning-on” ceremony—the first such event since the ban on gays in the military was lifted.To honor those who risked their lives to capture Osama bin Laden, as well as remind the country that he was responsible for giving the green light on that mission, President Obama has included Admiral William McRaven, who oversaw Navy SEAL Team 6, on his guest list for the second year in the row. 

Another familiar face in the first lady’s chamber will be that of Adam Rapp, a young cancer survivor who benefited from the Obamacare provision that allowed him to stay on his parents' health insurance and receive the treatment necessary to make him cancer-free. And don’t forget Debbie Bosanek. Warren Buffett’s long-time secretary, whose tax bill adds up to a significantly higher percentage of her income than her billionaire boss’s, will once again be touted as a symbol of tax inequity.

Gabrielle Giffords and husband Mark Kelly will also be seated with Mrs. Obama. At least 20 Democratic members of Congress plan to bring someone affected by gun violence as their own guests, but Giffords and Kelly serve as the most recognizable examples of the need for gun control, an issue that the president is sure to focus on during his speech.

Other guests include Alicia Boler-Davis, the plant manager of a Detroit General Motors factory who is responsible for overseeing the car manufacturer’s first U.S. small car program; 
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro; Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old Florida woman who waited hours to vote for Obama; and Medal of Honor recipient Clinton L. Romesha, among others.