- An empty seat in first lady's box will symbolize gun victims
- Indian-born tech executive embodies many of Obama's priorities
Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella is among 23 guests invited to join first lady Michelle Obama to watch President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address, a case study in the complex considerations surrounding the annual rite.
Assembling the list for the first lady’s viewing box in the House of Representatives is an exercise in political signaling for every administration. The mix typically includes men and women of different races and ethnic backgrounds who’ve overcome tragedy, risen as national symbols, or would benefit from a policy initiative; veterans; prominent figures in science, education or the arts; and company executives.
The guest box takes on an added sensitivity in presidents’ final year, as they seek to acknowledge who shaped their political career and how they see the future of the nation unfolding.
The White House also said Saturday that the guest list will include two of the early inspirational figures in Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. They are Edith Childs, a county council member from Greenwood, South Carolina, who in 2007 coined the call and response, “Fired Up? Ready to Go!” that Obama adopted in his first presidential campaign; and Earl Smith, an Army veteran from Austin, Texas, who gave then-candidate Obama a military patch he had worn during the Vietnam War and carried for 40 years.
Symbolic Empty Seat
Among the 20 other guests are a Syrian refugee, a previously undocumented immigrant, and a man who defended Muslims after his partner was killed during the San Bernardino, California, attack in December. Sue Ellen Allen, an Arizona woman who started a non-profit for ex-felons after she was released from prison in 2009, will also attend the speech, highlighting Obama’s focus on overhauling the U.S. criminal justice system.
The Obamas have decided for the first time in their tenure to keep one of 24 guest seats empty, “for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice,” according to a White House statement Sunday.
At a women’s technology event in October 2014, Nadella famously stumbled when he got a question about how women should ask for raises, by suggesting that women in the tech industry should trust in “karma” that they will get the pay they deserve. His rapid public apology won him praise; in a memo the same day, he said his answer had been “completely wrong,” and that men and women should get “equal pay for equal work” and if women thought they were under-compensated “you should just ask” for a raise.
Nadella, 48, who took the helm at Microsoft in 2014, embodies many of Obama’s priorities: an immigrant who has contributed significantly to the U.S. technology industry, who has advocated for the inclusion of more women in executive positions, and is committed to environmental initiatives to combat climate change.
“Satya is honored to attend the 2016 State of the Union and learn more about the president’s vision for America’s future,” according to a statement released by Microsoft on Saturday.
Microsoft also is one of the tech companies the administration has reached out to for help in a campaign to combat the Islamic State terror group. And it has been one of the biggest technology companies, along with Apple Inc., to oppose overreach by National Security Agency spying programs exposed by former U.S. contractor Edward Snowden.
The company led a coalition that lobbied successfully for legislation curbing spying, which Obama signed into law in 2015. Microsoft currently is waging a legal battle to limit the U.S. government from obtaining data on its users stored on servers in Ireland.
With gender equity and family balance taking on greater importance in the technology industry, Microsoft in 2015 announced plans to offer 12 weeks of paid time off to all new parents. That, atop eight weeks of maternity disability, translated to 20 weeks of leave fully paid for women.
Only 12 percent of U.S. private-sector employees have access to any paid family leave through their jobs, according to the U.S. Labor Department. The U.S. is the only nation in the developed world that doesn’t mandate maternity leave with pay.