From Joshua Trump to undocumented immigrants: A look at the invitees at State of the Union speech

This year the Trumps invited 13 guests including Grace Eline, a 10-year-old cancer patient, and Joshua Trump, a middle-schooler bullied because of his name.
This year the Trumps invited 13 guests including Grace Eline, a 10-year-old cancer patient, and Joshua Trump, a middle-schooler bullied because of his name.PHOTO: REUTERS

United States President Donald Trump delivered the State of the Union address on Tuesday (Feb 5) (Wednesday, Feb 6, Singapore time).

Traditionally, the President and the First Lady invite special guests to attend the speech.

Guests in the First Lady's box are people who exemplify policies the President highlights in his remarks.

This year, the Trumps invited 13 guests, including a 10-year-old cancer patient and a middle-schooler bullied because of his name.

Members of Congress also invite guests to the address to make a statement on an issue they wish to highlight.

Undocumented immigrants and transgender service members were among their guests invited to the speech.

Here's a look at some of the invitees from both sides:

Guests of the Trumps: According to the White House, "no matter their background, each one has something important in common: They represent the very best of America".

1. Joshua Trump


Joshua Trump had been bullied at school because of his surname. PHOTO: THE WHITE HOUSE

The 11-year-old is a sixth-grader from Delaware who is not related to the first family but had been bullied at school because of his surname.

He had to drop out of school because of the abuse, and told his mother he had lost the will to live, said The Telegraph.

 
 
 

The constant mockery led his parents to home-school him for a year, before re-enrolling him when he was due to start middle school.

"He said he hates himself and he hates his last name and he feels sad all the time and he doesn't want to live feeling like that anymore. And as a parent, that's scary," his mother told a local television news station.

According to the White House: "(Joshua) appreciates science, art and history. He also loves animals and hopes to pursue a related career in the future.

"His hero and best friend is his Uncle Cody, who serves in the United States Air Force."

He was not mentioned in Mr Trump's speech, and was seen on the live stream of the address dozing off during the speech.

2. Timothy Matson and Judah Samet


Pittsburgh police SWAT officer Timothy Matson (left), who was wounded while responding to last October's mass shooting in a synagogue that killed 11 people, and one of the survivors of the shooting, synagogue member Judah Samet, were invited. PHOTOS: THE WHITE HOUSE

Pittsburgh police SWAT officer Timothy Matson, who was wounded while responding to last October's mass shooting in a synagogue that killed 11 people, was invited. With him was one of the survivors of the shooting, synagogue member Judah Samet.

Mr Matson, 41, was one of five officers injured at The Tree of Life Synagogue. He remained in critical condition for days after the shooting, which was carried out during Sabbath services. The White House said Mr Matson "saved countless lives in that heinous, anti-Semitic attack".

Mr Samet, a Holocaust survivor who described himself as a Trump supporter, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: "Of course, I am very honoured, (Trump) invited me, I was told, because I represented two of the biggest tragedies for the Jewish people in the last 100 years."

The attack on the synagogue was one of the deadliest in a house of worship in recent years.

Tuesday, the day of the speech, was also Mr Samet's 81st birthday, and when that was mentioned during Mr Trump's address, the audience sang him the Happy Birthday song.

"They wouldn't do that for me, Judah," said Mr Trump, cuing laughter.

Mr Samet served as a paratrooper and radio man in the Israeli Defense Forces and moved to the United States in the 1960s, said the White House.

3. Debra Bissell, Heather Armstrong and Madison Armstrong


Ms Debra Bissell (centre) with her daughter Heather Armstrong (left) and granddaughter Madison. They are relatives of a couple in their 80s who were "burglarised and shot to death in their Reno, Nevada, home by an illegal alien". PHOTO: THE WHITE HOUSE

These women are relatives of Gerald and Sharon David, a couple in their 80s who were "burglarised and shot to death in their Reno, Nevada, home by an illegal alien" three weeks ago, said Mr Trump in his address.

Ms Bissell is the Davids' daughter, while Heather is their granddaughter and Madison their great-granddaughter. The Davids were survived by four children, 11 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.

They were mentioned when Trump spoke about illegal immigrants.

He said: "Not one more American life should be lost because our nation failed to control its very dangerous border."

The couple were killed by a man that the US authorities identified as a Guatemalan immigrant who was believed to be "unlawfully present in the United States", reported the New York Times.

Mr Trump had called attention to the case on Twitter when it occurred, using it as evidence as a need for a wall to protect the US border.

4. Grace Eline


Grace Eline, 10, is a brain cancer survivor. PHOTO: THE WHITE HOUSE

The 10-year-old girl is a brain cancer survivor.

Every birthday since she was four, Grace asked her friends to donate to St Jude Children's Research Hospital in Tennessee, which treats the toughest childhood cancers and paediatric diseases, instead of giving her gifts.

Last year, she was diagnosed with germinoma, a germ-cell brain tumour. In May, she began cancer treatment and stayed positive and strong throughout the rest of the year as she underwent chemotherapy, said the White House.

During Mr Trump's speech, he clapped with everyone else after he introduced Grace, and said "Hi Grace" with a smile when the clapping died down.

He later said: "Thank you very much Grace, you are a great inspiration to many of us in this room."

"Grace recently finished chemotherapy and today shows no evidence of the disease. She is determined to help other children who are fighting cancer," said the White House.

Mr Trump said in his speech that his budget would ask Congress for US$500 million (S$677 million) over the next 10 years to fund "critical life-saving research" into new therapies for childhood cancers.

Guests of Democrats: Members of Congress each get a ticket to bring a guest to the address; sometimes they invite family members, but more often, they use their tickets to make a point, said the New York Times.

1. Victorina Morales and Sandra Diaz


Ms Victorina Morales (left) and Ms Sandra Diaz were undocumented when they were working for Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. PHOTOS: AFP, NYTIMES

The two women are former employees of Mr Trump, who were undocumented when they were working for him, said CNN.

"It's an honour," said Ms Diaz, 46, who is now a legal resident, on being invited to the address.

Ms Morales, 47, told CNN that she had never imagined that she would be in a place like the House chamber where the address was held. "I'll never forget that moment," she said.

New Jersey Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman and California Representative Jimmy Gomez, both Democrats, invited Ms Morales and Ms Diaz respectively.

The two lawmakers aimed to draw attention to the gap between Trump's rhetoric on undocumented immigrants and the hiring practices at his clubs, reported CNN.

Both Ms Morales and Ms Diaz had worked for Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Ms Diaz told CNN that even though they don't agree with Mr Trump's politics, they respect his office.

"I respect him, even if I don't share his ideas," she said. "He won't be able to forget (us)."

2. Sajid Shahriar

An employee of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Mr Shahriar was furloughed during the 35-day-long federal government shutdown.

He was invited to the address by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who said in a statement: "It's time to send a message to President Trump and Senate Republicans: federal and contract workers are the backbone of our economy and their livelihoods should never be used as pawns in Republican political games."

During the government shutdown, Mr Shahriar, who is also a Massachusetts labour leader, did not receive a pay cheque for 35 days. He organised rallies in Boston with fellow federal workers, unions and community allies to urge the re-opening of the government.

In her statement, Ms Warren said: "Sajid has devoted his career to fighting for fair housing, equal pay, the dignity of all work, and strong collective bargaining rights for workers across this country."

Mr Shahriar said: "Thank you to the Senator for continuing to raise the stories of federal workers and the people we serve, and for recognising the importance of our American Federation of Government Employees union rights."

3. Blake Dremann

Mr Dremann, a decorated transgender Navy member, was invited to Mr Trump's address by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

The Navy lieutenant commander has been deployed 11 times, and is also president of Sparta, an organisation that advocates for transgender troops, reported Washington Post.

Ms Gillibrand's invitation comes after the US Supreme Court allowed Mr Trump's ban on transgender military service to go into effect, said CNN.

The senator also said she will introduce legislation in the Senate later in the week that would protect transgender Americans' ability to serve in the military.

Ms Gillibrand said in a statement: "Transgender service members like Lieutenant Commander Dremann make extraordinary sacrifices every day to defend our freedom and our most sacred values, and President Trump's decision to ban them from military service is cruel and undermines our military readiness."

4. Cameron Kasky

To highlight his support for gun control, California Representative Eric Swalwell brought 18-year-old Cameron Kasky to the State of the Union address.

Mr Kasky is a survivor of the Parkland high school shooting in February 2018.

Since the massacre that killed 17 people on Valentine's Day last year, Mr Kasky has advocated for tough new gun laws and co-founded an advocacy group called Never Again MSD, as well as helped organise the March for Our Lives protests, reported Washington Post.

Mr Swalwell said in a statement: "The shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School happened while I was in congressional orientation in December 2012, and I figured Congress would have to act.

"As Republicans stymied all efforts since then, I started to grow frustrated but the... voices of the Parkland generation have inspired me to renew our efforts."