State of the Union: How You Get to Sit with the First Lady
(WASHINGTON) — First lady Michelle Obama will welcome guests into her box for the State of the Union Tuesday night, including two survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing, the fire chief from the tornado-ravaged town of Moore, Okla., and a 16-year-old whiz kid who impressed President Obama when he launched a marshmallow across the East Room at a White House science fair two years ago.
But how exactly does the first lady’s office decide who will have the honor of being showcased at the State of the Union?
Here are a few secrets to scoring one of the most coveted seats in the House:
Get on the List
Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush from 2005 to 2009, told ABC News the guest selection is a year-long process that is coordinated between the West Wing and the first lady’s office. During the Bush administration, the Office of Public Liaison, now known as the Office of Public Engagement, would keep a running list throughout the year of potential guests.
“It would be their job to be keeping a record of individuals, just like the one you see in the box, that represent and are examples of the priorities the administration and president are trying to promote throughout the year,” McBride, who currently is executive-in-residence at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies in the School of Public Affairs at American University, said in an interview with ABC News.
“It’s a pretty large list, could be a hundred people,” McBride said. “It really gets difficult to cull it down.”
Pass the Vetting Process
The list is narrowed down about a month before the State of the Union, at which point the potential guests go through a vetting process.
McBride said the White House tries to select people whose stories coincide with their priorities and initiatives for the year, and many of the guests tend to be supportive of those programs which they are selected to represent. But often times, it’s the powerful stories of courage and resilience, regardless of political leanings, which are showcased for the country.
“It reminds us of just how resilient we are as Americans and just how many every day people are courageous and are called on at a moment’s notice to really show what we’ve got,” she said.
Do Something Heroic
The guests who sit with the first lady at the State of Union are nicknamed Lenny Skutniks, a term coined after President Ronald Reagan highlighted Skutnik, a federal employee who jumped into icy water to rescue a passenger after the Air Florida Flight 90 crash in 1982, at the State of the Union that same year.
Embody a Presidential Priority
So who else should you expect to see in Mrs. Obama’s box Tuesday night? McBride predicts there could be military families since the first lady and Dr. Jill Biden have invested much of their time to military related causes. And keep an eye out for people whose stories are a positive reflection of the Affordable Care Act, one of the president’s signature initiatives which experienced a rough rollout last year.
“They’re looking at all the priorities of the year and who are people that they’ve met who have touched their hearts,” McBride said.
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