- The Washington Times
Monday, January 27, 2014

The father of one of the men who died in the terrorist attack in Benghazi will attend Tuesday’s State of the Union address, escalating the battle of the guests that takes place every year.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine’s invitation to Charles Woods, father of former Navy SEAL and Benghazi terrorist attack victim Tyrone Woods, is the latest evidence that the real politics of the major speech happens well above the president’s head, in the public viewing galleries.

“As a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, I understand the importance of knowing that America leaves no one behind. I am honored to host the father of a true hero,” Mr. Bridenstine, an Oklahoma Republican, said in a statement announcing his move.

His office characterized the invite as a way to make sure Benghazi “will not be forgotten” in the House chamber, where President Obama will deliver his speech.

Woods was one of four Americans killed on Sept. 11, 2012, in what authorities have concluded was a terrorist assault on the U.S. diplomatic outpost and a CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya.

With some infamous exceptions most lawmakers limit their partisanship during the these kinds of speeches to enthusiastic applause for lines they like, and occasional groans or eye-rolling for parts they dislike.

SEE ALSO: Obama to use State of the Union as opening salvo in 2014 midterms

In recent years, however, lawmakers have been speaking quite loudly with their choice of guests for their tickets. Some invite a spouse or family member, but many bring guests whose presence they hope will make a statement.

Republican leaders were urging their members to bring people who have been hurt by Obamacare, hoping to win local news coverage back home about victims of the health law.

For their part, some Democrats were planning to bring unemployed Americans who have seen the expiration of their long-term jobless benefits, which the federal government pays once regular state benefits run out. Democrats have pleaded with Republicans to pass another round of added benefits.

Rep. Sander Levin, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said his guest Josie Maisano is one of 1.6 million Americans who have lost their extended benefits.

“I am convinced that if every Member of Congress would meet with unemployed workers, like Josie, in their District — or if the unemployed were able to come to D.C. — we would re-start the program immediately,” Mr. Levin said in a letter to constituents.

Other Democrats announced plans to host illegal immigrants who are in the country under Mr. Obama’s nondeportation policies.

Rep. Joe Garcia, Florida Democrat and chief sponsor of House Democrats’ immigration bill, said he’ll give his viewing ticket to Mayra Rubio Limon, a college freshman at Miami Dade College who was in the country illegally.

“I am honored to be able to attend this special event and hope President Obama and Congress will make it a priority to reform the laws that will allow people, like myself, a chance to share in the American dream,” she said in a statement released by Mr. Garcia’s office.

Several Illinois Democrats likewise said they’ll invite illegal immigrants who have gained legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Those invited to the galleries are not supposed to show any reaction whatsoever to the goings-on in the chamber, but those rules are not observed during presidential speeches, and the galleries applaud along with the lawmakers. Sometimes, however, they go further, including an occasional heckle.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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