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Arizona shootings loom over House changer for Obama's State of the Union

From the podium to the House floor and the gallery above, the heartbreak of the Jan. 8 Tucson shootings was felt in the packed chamber Tuesday evening.

Gazing down from the gallery, in Michelle Obama's box, the faces of the tragedy.

John and Roxanna Green, the parents of 11-year-old Dallas and the late Christina Taylor, the 9-year-old girl born on 9/11 and killed in the Tucson attack.

Daniel Hernandez, the intern to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who helped clear the wounded congresswoman's airway and held her until medics arrived.

Giffords' Arizona medical team — trauma surgeons Peter Rhee and Randall Friese, neurosurgeon Michael Lemole and nurse Tracy Culbert.

Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, was invited to attend but remained in Houston, where he is based and where Giffords is now receiving medical care after being shot in the head.

Mrs. Obama's other guests included: Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, who was awarded the Medal of Honor in November for stepping into an ambush in Afghanistan to try to rescue fellow troops; and Brandon Fisher, who owns a small business in Pennsylvania that manufactures drill bits and other equipment used to help rescue 33 miners who were trapped in a Chilean mine. Also seated with the first lady were several other military veterans, patients helped by Obama's health care bill, entrepreneurs and business people who benefited from the economic stimulus bill, and a few student inventors.

Thanks, but no thanks: Pelosi turns down Cantor

Republican and Democratic lawmakers also made a show of unity. Carefully courting each other like prom dates, many sat elbow-to-elbow rather than the traditional party-by-party. Black and white ribbons, signifying the deaths of the Tucson victims and the hopes of the survivors, were pinned to lapels across the chamber.

The Arizona delegation sat together, around an empty seat to signify Giffords' absence.

Through senior aides, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor late Monday invited Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi to sit with him for the address. On Tuesday, Pelosi declined, tweeting her thanks to the Virginia Republican and saying she had already asked Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.

Dozens of other pairings were sought and accepted: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., sat with John Thune, R-S.D. And Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., sat with Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., near the rest of that state's grieving delegation.

Florida Sens. Bill Nelson, D, and Marco Rubio, R, also took adjoining seats.

Six justices attend, but three stay away

Quieting speculation that only Democratic appointees to the court would be there, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Anthony Kennedy, both nominated by Republicans, joined the four Democratic appointees to the high court.

The court's liberal wing — Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan also attended. But a bit of partisan hangover remained from previous years. Justice Clarence Thomas, for example, has said he does not attend the presidential addresses to Congress because they have become partisan occasions, and he was absent Tuesday night, as was Justice Samuel Alito, who is the jurist-in-residence at the University of Hawaii law school. Antonin Scalia was also a no-show.

In the event of an actual emergency . . . Salazar

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was the one Cabinet member picked to stay away from the Capitol. The administration typically chooses one leader to be elsewhere so the government can continue to function in case a catastrophe were to strike the building.

Last year, Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan was the one who stayed away. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also missed the speech, but she was traveling in London.

Times wires

Arizona shootings loom over House changer for Obama's State of the Union 01/25/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 11:26pm]
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