WASHINGTON — What President Donald Trump says in his State of the Union address on Tuesday is just part of the story when it comes to messaging on one of the biggest political nights of the year.
Who the Democratic, Republican and White House guests are, how many Democratic lawmakers will be wearing black, the pins they choose, and even whether to boycott, are other plays made to seize the attention of and influence voters.
The Illinois delegation in many ways mirrors the rest of Congress, with most of the guests highly symbolic. Trump’s speech comes with the fate of “Dreamers” up in the air and as the #MeToo movement dealing with sexual harassment and abuse — yes, even in Congress — has taken root.
Three of Illinois House Democrats, Reps. Bobby Rush, Danny Davis and Jan Schakowsky, are boycotting the speech.
At least five Illinois House members, Democrats Robin Kelly, Mike Quigley, Luis Gutierrez, Cheri Bustos and Raja Krishnamoorthi will be wearing black in the chamber to show solidarity with #MeToo, a congressional version of the Golden Globes awards show where the stars wore black. Schakowsky also plans to wear black on Tuesday.
Kelly told me that besides her black dress, she will have on a kente cloth pin to “show our solidarity with people from African nations” and something denoting the American flag. The kente cloth is a reaction to Trump using a vulgar expression in talking about African nations.
Here’s a rundown for Illinois lawmakers:
• Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is the founder of the movement to provide legal protections for “Dreamers,” youths in the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own, and is the lead Democratic negotiator in the immigration negotiations Trump will be talking about in his speech.
Durbin’s guest is a “Dreamer,” Cesar Montelongo, whose temporary legal protections to stay in the U.S. have been yanked by Trump. He is a medical student at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
*Sen. Tammy Duckworth D-Ill., guest will be Cairo Junior/Senior High School Principal Lisa Childs Thomas who grew up in Alexander County Housing Authority’s McBride public housing complex “which the Trump Administration has chosen to shutter without any clear plan to rehouse hundreds of Illinoisans.”
• Rush said in a statement about his boycott, “This is a presidency that has been built on racism, stupidity, and lies, which has already wasted enough of America’s time and I will not waste anymore of mine.”
• Kelly’s guest is state Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, and she will try to get some national attention to boost Raoul’s Democratic primary campaign for Illinois Attorney General.
• Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., guest is Faith Ann Rys, a clinical therapist who treats female victims of sexual assault. Lipinski faces a Democratic primary challenge from Marie Newman; this is a play for the women’s vote.
• This will be the last State of the Union for Gutierrez, so he is bringing a friend as a guest. Besides wearing black, he will be wearing a “Butterfly” pin to support Dreamers and a strip of Kente cloth.
• Quigley’s guest is Erin Walton, the executive director of Rape Victim Advocates in Chicago.
• Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., is taking his wife as his guest.
• Krishnamoorthi’s guest is Tammy Adimi, an Elgin resident who puts a face on apprenticeship programs the lawmaker is supporting. After training at Harper College and Zurich, she is now is a claims administration senior coordinator at the insurance company.
• To throw a spotlight on opioid addition, Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., his guest is Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim.
• Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., guest is Dreamer Ana Campa Castillo, a student at Joliet Junior College.
• Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., will be taking his wife as a guest.
• Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., guest is U.S. Naval Academy midshipman Alex Vandenberg of Sugar Grove.
• Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., is taking his son.
• Rep. Adam Kinzinger R-Ill., is bringing Patti Thayer, president and owner of Thayer Lighting Inc. in Rockford.
• Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., guest is Jayson Werth, who folks here know as a Washington Nationals star. Werth owns an organic farm in Macoupin County.
• Bustos is taking Galesburg resident Sarah Miller, an activist over the issue of getting government help to deal with lead content found in local water supplies.
ILLINOIS SOTU FLASHBACK
What I wrote for the Jan. 20, 1999, Sun-Times, when then President Bill Clinton was facing impeachment:
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) had urged members to listen “soberly” and with dignity during the extraordinary confluence of Clinton delivering his seventh State of the Union while facing removal from office. He criticized Clinton for not proposing tax cuts as part of his economic package.
Hastert’s wife, Jean, a Yorkville gym teacher, was in the visitors gallery flanked by the widows of the two slain Capitol police officers who were killed last summer, one in Hastert’s former office suite and while his wife was nearby.
Three members of the Illinois House delegation did not attend the speech: House Judiciary Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), Clinton’s chief prosecutor; Rep. Philip Crane (R-Ill.) and Rep. William O. Lipinski (D-Ill.). That’s the father of the current Rep. Lipinski.