Who Goes To The State Of The Union? Donald Trump Will Have Lots Of People Watching
Tuesday, Jan. 30, will mark a milestone for President Donald Trump: his first State of the Union address as president. While the most memorable photos of presidents speaking at the annual event typically show just three key people — the president at the podium and, behind him, the Speaker of the House and Vice President — the list of attendees at a State of the Union address usually includes a long list of distinguished guests. So, who goes to the State of the Union?
The list can be broken down into certain categories.
Members of Congress
The State of the Union is not only a televised event during which people around the country can watch the president speak to the public, it's a rare occasion during which the president speaks directly to the whole of Congress.
Republicans and Democrats attend the event, which takes place inside the House of Representatives. During the address, Congress members sit with members of their party; Republicans on one side of the aisle, Democrats on the other.
The only members of Congress who don't sit with their party is the House Speaker, who sits behind the president, and Congress' "designated survivor," the one Congress member designated to succeed his colleagues in case all of them die as a result of a mass attack during the address.
Another common reason Congress members wouldn't be at the State of the Union is in the event they are chosen to deliver a response to the address, which is given by the member of the president's opposing party.
The person giving the response doesn't have to be a member of Congress. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) did it in 2006, when he was governor of Virginia. Sometimes, though, Congress members do respond.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) responded to former President Obama's address in 2013, which resulted in, uh, this viral moment.
Congress members could also not be in a attendance because of medical reasons (as might be the case for John McCain (R-AZ), or simply because of protest, which is the case this year for Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.
Supreme Court Justices
The U.S. Supreme Court's nine justices typically sit in a front row of the audience at a State of the Union address . They're usually among the first people the president greets after the end of the speech.
Joint Chiefs of Staff
Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest ranking military officers in the nation, also attend the State of the Union and sit in a section in front of Congress members.
Some of the lesser known attendees of the State of the Union are members of the U.S. diplomatic corps, those tasked with fostering relationships with our countries on behalf of the U.S. State Department.
The President's Cabinet
Members of a president's cabinet — which mostly includes heads of federal departments — are usually seated in a reserved section that, like the sections for Supreme Court justices and the joint chiefs, sits at the front of the chamber.
The First Lady
The First Lady of the United States sits in a designated box in the gallery of the House Chamber. In the first lady's box, she is usually joined by 24 guests of the president, some of whom receive special mention during the speech.
At his 2017 joint address before Congress — which technically isn't a State of the Union, but an address delivered in the same manner — President Trump invited Carryn Owens, the widow of a fallen Navy Seal.
Guests of Congress
Each member of Congress is allowed one guest at the State of the Union, while the Speaker of the House is allowed 24 guests that sit in a designated box within the gallery.
This year, some members of Congress are planning to invite victims of sexual harassment to the House chamber, according to The Washington Post.
If such guests do attend, they'll be witness to President Trump's first State of the Union, along with the other usually members at the address.