President Donald Trump's guests at his second State of the Union address included the father of a Maryland sailor killed in the 2000 terrorist attack on the USS Cole and a sixth-grader with the last name "Trump."
Democrats countered with their own invitees bearing political messages. Their list included a Hagerstown woman struggling to make ends meet after the recent partial federal government shutdown and a Johns Hopkins surgeon who was a victim of gun violence.
Trump and his wife, Melania, asked 13 people to join them Tuesday night on Capitol Hill.
"They represent the very best of America," the White House said in a news release.
Marylanders expressed relief at the end of a partial federal government shutdown, but also frustration that it lasted a record 35 days — and anxiety that it could happen again next month. Lila Johnson, a contract custodian at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was awaiting word on when to report.
Tom Wibberley of Boonsboro in Washington County was among those attending, and was singled out by the president. Wibberley’s son, Craig, was among three Maryland sailors killed when their Norfolk, Va.-based destroyer stopped to refuel in Yemen. Seventeen Americans died in all.
Trump said last month that a terrorist believed to have helped orchestrate the attack was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Yemen.
“Friend and foe alike must never doubt this nation's power and will to defend our people,” Trump said Tuesday night. “Eighteen years ago, violent terrorists attacked the USS Cole — and last month American forces killed one of the leaders of that attack. We are honored to be joined tonight by Tom Wibberley, whose son, Navy Seaman Craig Wibberley, was one of the 17 sailors we tragically lost.”
Trump then cited Wibberley. “Tom, we vow to always remember the heroes of the USS Cole,” he said.
The president also invited Joshua Trump, a sixth-grader from Wilmington, Del., whom the White House said has been bullied in school because of his last name.
The U.S. House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved legislation to guarantee back pay for federal employees affected by a partial government shutdown. The measure has already cleared the U.S. Senate, where it was sponsored by Maryland Democrats Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen.
Lila Johnson — a 71-year-old contract custodian at the U.S. Department of Agriculture — was invited to the speech by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat. Johnson, who is raising great-grandchildren, ages 6 and 15, said Tuesday that she missed two paychecks of $958 each during the impasse and needs the money for rent and other expenses.
Dr. Joseph Sakran of Johns Hopkins was invited by California Rep. Mike Thompson, a Democrat who chairs a Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. When he was 17, Sakran was nearly killed after being shot in the throat by an errant bullet after a football game.
"As someone who has been a victim of gun violence — and now on the other side as a [health care] provider — it's clear to me we are facing a health crisis in this country of epic proportions," he said. "I think it's important to have our voice heard."