The time has come. Tonight, President Obama will deliver his final State of the Union address. BE Politics has put together this preview of what to watch for tonight as we begin to say farewell to the Obama administration.
Many of the prominent politicians attending tonight’s address will be accompanied by guests who personify certain political ideals or policies. For example, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will be be attending with two nuns from the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are advocating against the contraceptive requirement in the Affordable Healthcare Act on the basis of their Catholic faith. Democratic National Committee chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, is bringing two Muslim-Americans to show “how the hate and vitriol against Muslim-Americans has no place in our society.” Kim Davis, the county clerk who was jailed last year for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, will also be attending. She was invited by members of Congress who are refusing to disclose their identity.
“We are not releasing the names of the Congressmen who provided tickets for Kim and [Liberty Council Chairman Mat Staver] because the focus should not be on the Congressmen or politics but on why Kim and Mat Staver are there. Kim will be in the gallery tonight as a counterweight to the President’s message. She is representing many Americans who have been adversely affected by the President’s policies, specifically this administration’s trampling of religious liberty,” said Charla Bansley of Liberty Counsel.
Other notable guests include Edith Childs, the elderly black woman who originated the now legendary “Fired up! Ready to go!” chant that became a staple of Obama’s victorious 2008 campaign.
Insiders have said that President Obama will not focus on listing his accomplishments while in office, nor will he use his final SOTU address to embark on a whole new set of initiatives. Instead, the president plans to essentially give a morale-boosting, inspirational pep talk. In a clear nod to the xenophobic rhetoric plaguing this election season, President Obama plans to stress the importance of a unified nation that upholds civil rights and tolerance. He’ll lay out a plan for his final months in office that will include work on the nuclear deal with Iran, diplomatic relations with Cuba, and criminal justice reform. Insiders are also expecting President Obama to touch on gun control reform, as evidenced in his inclusion of an empty seat to symbolize victims of gun violence.
The Republican party will get a chance to respond to President Obama directly following the State of the Union address. This year, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was chosen by House Speaker Paul Ryan to respond. This is telling for Haley’s future in a party that is trying to combat its antiquated image and appeal to young, female voters. Haley is also of Indian descent, which may help the GOP appear more inclusive in the face of troubling calls to ban Muslims. No stranger to criticizing Obama, Haley is expected to provide a fiery but eloquent condemnation of President Obama’s policies. Don’t expect a repeat of Marco Rubio’s awkward, water-guzzling 2013 response; Gov. Haley is rumored to be a top choice for vice president among the current GOP presidential hopefuls.