A voting-rights pioneer, Cuban dissidents among State of Union guests

State Of Union
President Obama gives his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2013.
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

A mom who is an immigrant living in the U.S. illegally will be the guest of a California congressman at Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech.

An Alabama lawmaker invited a 103-year-old voting-rights pioneer, who is portrayed in the movie “Selma,” to hear President Obama.

A doctor who has treated Ebola patients will join a senator from Nebraska; the father of one of the Isla Vista shooting victims was invited; and several Cuban pro-democracy activists will also be guests in the gallery.

The annual State of the Union address is not only an opportunity for the president to outline his aspirations for the coming year, but for members of Congress to make statements of their own.


Each member typically is allowed to bring a single guest to the Capitol for the prime-time address. Many lawmakers prefer to sideline their families and friends for more politically targeted invitations.

Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Pacoima) said he was honored that Olga Cordero, an immigrant mother who has owned a jewelry repair business in his Valley district for 18 years, accepted his invitation. She flew cross-country for the trip, and toured the Capitol on Tuesday morning.

“When we close our eyes, Olga is what we see when we hear the words ‘American Dream,’” said Cardenas, who supports Obama’s actions to provide temporary deportation relief for several million immigrants living here illegally.

Amelia Boynton Robinson, 103, was the first African American woman to run for Congress from Alabama in 1964. She arrived in Washington on Tuesday as the guest of Rep. Terri Sewell, the Democratic lawmaker from the same district.


“She paved the way for me,” said Sewell, as Democrats push for broader voting rights reforms.

Newly elected Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), invited Dr. Philip Smith, who led the team that treated three Ebola patients last year at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Biocontainment Unit.

Richard Martinez, the father of one of the students killed on May 23, 2014, in a shooting rampage near the UC Santa Barbara, will join the area’s Democratic Rep. Lois Capps, who is fighting for gun violence prevention.

And after Obama announced sweeping new policies loosening trade and relations with Cuba, several Republicans who oppose that approach invited like-minded activists.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he hopes the presence of Cuban activist Rosa Maria Paya, whose father promoted democracy in Cuba and was killed in a 2012 automobile accident that some have suggested was orchestrated by Cuban officials, will remind Obama of the regime’s abuses as high-level diplomatic talks get underway in Havana.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) invited two other Cuban pro-democracy advocates, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez and Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera.

Boehner, a Catholic, has continued his own tradition and invited Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, to join the speaker’s box as he has every year since becoming speaker in 2011.

For the latest from Congress follow @LisaMascaro


Get our twice-weekly Politics newsletter