Newsletter: The SOTU guests you didn’t see

President Trump arrives to deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, as Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi look on.
President Trump arrives to deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, as Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi look on.
(Leah Millis / Pool via Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Feb. 5, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Politics is always theater, but especially so on the one night a year when the president makes his annual address to a joint session of Congress.

If you watched last night’s State of the Union address, you might have noticed the president pointing out a number of special guests throughout the speech — like people who could stand as symbols for various themes and policy priorities.

This particular tradition is a relatively new one. It dates only back to 1982, when President Reagan invited a 28-year-old Congressional Budget Office employee to join him at that year’s State of the Union. Lenny Skutnik, who had recently jumped into the frigid Potomac to save a plane crash victim, exemplified “the spirit of American heroism at its finest.”


Although the practice has become commonplace in the decades since, the integration of this year’s guests into the president’s address was even more theatrical than normal. In an unprecedented move, ailing conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh was awarded a Medal of Freedom mid-speech, and a surprise military family reunion brought cheers of “U-S-A” to the room.

But the president’s guests weren’t the only symbolic plus-ones in the room. Members of Congress also each got an extra ticket, and many used their seatmates to make a statement. Below are a few of the guests California reps chose to bring.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), who serves as co-chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, brought Courtney Wild — a survivor of sexual abuse who testified against Jeffrey Epstein last year. Wild is also the namesake of the “Courtney Wild Crime Victims’ Rights Reform Act of 2019,” a bipartisan bill introduced by Speier last year.

Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) chose to bring San Bernardino County Fire Chief Dan Munsey. After another year of wildfires, Aguilar intended the fire chief’s presence to “serve as a reminder of the continued need for federal resources in the state,” according to a press release from his office.

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) brought Isabel Bueso, a rare-disease advocate from his district who had faced the threat of deportation before being granted a life-saving reprieve to stay in the country and continue medical treatment.

Rep. Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano) brought Dr. Pat Davis, an Encinitas dentist whose wife, daughter and sister-in-law died in last year’s Encinitas bluff collapse. Davis and Levin coauthored an op-ed this week calling on the federal government to assist with the effort to stabilize the bluffs.


Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel) brought Pablo Martinez, a former farmworker who worked in the fields of Monterey County for 16 years alongside his parents and graduated with his associate degree from Monterey Peninsula College last year. Panetta co-sponsored the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would give undocumented farmworkers a pathway to permanent residency.

(A quick note: Yes, those are all Democrats listed. No members of California’s small Republican congressional delegation appeared to have publicized guests, but if we learn of any we’ll include them in tomorrow’s newsletter.)

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

More on the State of the Union:

  • President Trump highlighted economic gains and his own case for reelection during his third State of the Union address. Republican lawmakers chanted “four more years!” before Trump began speaking, setting an intensely partisan tone for the address on the eve of the president’s virtually certain acquittal in the Republican-controlled Senate, which is scheduled to vote Wednesday afternoon, at the start of an election season. Los Angeles Times
  • The personal and political friction between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was on full display — from the beginning of the evening, when Trump refused to shake Pelosi’s hand, to the end, when she tore up his speech. USA Today
  • President Trump took aim at sanctuary cities and California’s sanctuary state law. The Hill

Amid the growing fear over the coronavirus outbreak, nearly 40 airlines worldwide have cut about 25,000 flights to, from or within China compared with two weeks ago. More than 500 flights a month between the U.S. and China have been temporarily suspended, despite urging by the World Health Organization against travel and trade restrictions because of the virus outbreak that started in China, infecting at least 20,000 people and killing more than 400 people. Los Angeles Times


This is a story about the eviction of a popular vegan restaurant in Silver Lake. But it’s also about what happens when neighborhoods become brands, and the corporate storefronts of late-stage gentrification start to consume the early-stage gentrifiers. Los Angeles Times


The Dodgers acquired slugger Mookie Betts and starter David Price from the Red Sox. In a separate deal, the Dodgers reportedly traded outfielder Joc Pederson to the Angels for middle infielder Luis Rengifo. Los Angeles Times

Then-Red Sox center fielder Mookie Betts connects for a solo home run off Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The L.A. Public Library and Alta magazine have announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to a long-lost sculpture. The bronze sculpture — which honored history’s great writers — mysteriously vanished more than 50 years ago when the downtown L.A. library underwent a makeover. Los Angeles Times

Oprah has been put on the defensive in the face of two separate controversies — mounting criticism over her decision to pull out of the Russell Simmons documentary, and the “American Dirt” book club pick. Variety

The Oscars again snubbed female directors. But women producers had a record year, with eight of the nine Oscar best picture nominees having been produced by at least one woman. Los Angeles Times

Fake passengers wanted: LAX needs 500 people to test out its new airport terminal. Los Angeles Times


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L.A. is blocking privately run detention centers from opening in the city, including facilities for immigrant youth in government custody, under a stopgap measure approved by the City Council. Los Angeles Times


Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Tuesday that she supports acquittal in President Trump’s impeachment trial, further reducing Democrats’ chances of obtaining a bipartisan guilty vote in the Senate. Los Angeles Times

The app that broke the Iowa caucuses was coded by a tech firm run by veterans of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, one of them a former Google engineer. It was designed to meet new requirements instituted after that year’s contentious Iowa caucuses, in which Clinton edged out Sen. Bernie Sanders. Los Angeles Times

As rivals finished the race in Iowa, Michael Bloomberg ramped up his California campaign. With Californians starting to vote by mail this week in the March 3 presidential primary, Bloomberg has already plowed $35 million of his personal wealth into television, radio and digital ads in the state — a total that eclipses ad spending by all of his opponents, combined. Los Angeles Times


Orange County’s district attorney plans to drop all charges against a Newport Beach doctor and his girlfriend accused of drugging and sexually assaulting several women after a review of their case found no evidence they committed any crimes. Los Angeles Times



Macy’s plans to shift its tech operations out of San Francisco, laying off 831 employees there. The move is part of a broader restructuring for the retailer, which will also be closing 125 stores around the country. San Francisco Chronicle

Could Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue be the next storied California street to go car-free? That’s what one Berkeley City Council member is suggesting, following San Francisco’s recent decision to ban private vehicles from a downtown stretch of Market Street. East Bay Times

The publisher of “American Dirt” has vowed to increase Latinx staff and published authors. A group of Latinx activists met on Monday with officials at Macmillan, the international parent company of Flatiron Books, which published “American Dirt,” to deliberate steps the publisher could take to increase Latino representation in the industry. Los Angeles Times

Four California hotels made U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking of the top 25 hotels in the United States: the Peninsula and the Montage in Beverly Hills, the Fairmont Grand Del Mar in San Diego and the Rancho Valencia in Rancho Santa Fe. U.S. News & World Report

California childcare workers plan to file for a massive union election on Wednesday, marking the culmination of a 16-year campaign. If successful, the contract would cover an estimated 40,000 people, potentially reshaping jobs within the state’s government-funded childcare system for low-income families. Huff Post


Los Angeles: sunny, 66. San Diego: sunny, 62. San Francisco: sunny, 58. San Jose: sunny, 62. Sacramento: sunny, 60. More weather is here.



A quick correction from Tuesday’s newsletter: Iowa is the Hawkeye State, not the Buckeye State. Thank you to all the readers who wrote in about this, especially the native Ohioan who also shared a recipe for making peanut butter chocolate buckeyes.


Today’s California memory comes from Edie Lanphar:

When I was a little girl in the 1960s, I was one of eight children, and for a special treat I would spend the night at my grandparents’ house right off Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. We would often walk to the pony rides that were where the Beverly Center is now. At other times we would go to Hollywood Boulevard to the El Capitan Theater and see movies like the “Sound of Music.” But my favorite outing was to the local Rexall’s, where we would eat ice cream sundaes together and talk and laugh for hours.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.