Congressmen announce State of the Union guests

February 4, 2020
In The News

Two Democrats invited guests to send President Donald Trump a message.

Two Republicans invited businessmen friends.

One Republican intends to honor a “special guest.”

Like other members of Congress, the five who represent Northeast Pennsylvania in Washington, D.C., each get to invite a guest to sit in the visitors’ gallery during the annual State of the Union, which Trump will deliver tonight.

U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-8, Moosic, invited Ben Tielle, of Pittston, a disabled former branch manager for PNC Bank who suffered a heart attack four years ago, still suffers from diabetes, receives dialysis for end-stage kidney failure and awaits a kidney transplant. His private health insurance officially expired Monday. Tielle hopes to land insurance soon through the exchange created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, which Trump and Republicans want to repeal.

At a news conference Monday, Cartwright, who faces a tough re-election fight, highlighted Republicans’ and Trump’s support for a federal lawsuit that could invalidate the law. It’s a theme of Democratic election efforts this year.

The act created the insurance exchange, allows children to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until age 26, requires free annual medical checkups and bars insurers from rejecting people with pre-existing medical conditions.

If the act disappears, people who need health care insurance will “be cut adrift,” and Republicans have offered “no replacement whatsoever,” Cartwright said.

Last year, Cartwright and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, invited federal employees hurt by a government shutdown during a budget impasse.

This year, Casey has invited M’kiyah Martin, a 14-year-old South Philadelphia resident who began publicly lobbying for gun reform because her cousin was shot and killed in 2018.

Two Republican congressmen — Rep. Fred Keller, R-12, Snyder, and Sen. Pat Toomey — have invited businessmen, perhaps partly to highlight the nation’s economic surge under Trump.

Toomey invited Joseph V. Topper Jr., chief executive officer of Allentown-based Dunne Manning Inc., which nationally distributes petroleum and convenience retail products, provides carwash services and employes more than 2,500. Topper also co-founded City Center Investment Corp. in 2001 to redevelop downtown Allentown.

In past years, Toomey has invited York Mayor Kim Bracey and state Sen. Hardy Williams of Philadelphia, both black Democrats. In 2016, he invited state Trooper Alex Douglass, who survived convicted murderer Eric Frein’s late-night ambush outside the Blooming Grove State Police barracks in September 2014.

For his first State of the Union, Keller invited Larry Allison Jr., president of Allison Crane & Rigging in Williamsport.

“Larry is a friend and respected community leader,” Keller spokesman Jason Gottesman said.

It’s not unusual for congressmen to invite family members.

At least twice, Casey’s wife, Terese, has sat in the gallery. In 2016, Cartwright hosted his son, Jack.

This year, Rep. Dan Meuser, R-9, Dallas, who last year had his wife, Shelley, in the gallery, will keep up the congressional tradition of occasionally inviting a family member.

“Well, my special guest is a great woman of tremendous character, incredibly kind and a master of child rearing,” Meuser said. “My mom, Maeve Meuser.”

Scranton native Patrick Flynn will sit in the U.S. House gallery as the guest of a congresswoman from southeastern Pennsylvania for the State of the Union tonight.

Hoping to highlight her fight against the opioid crisis, Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4, Montgomery, invited Flynn, 30, a Philadelphia resident and a government affairs specialist for Independence Blue Cross, to highlight his creation of Someone Like You.

Flynn, in recovery for five years after a 10-year struggle with addiction, created Someone You Know to destigmatize addiction among employees within Independence Blue Cross.

Flynn is the son of the late Matthew Flynn and his wife, the former Catherine Kerrigan. Matthew Flynn served as executive director of the Scranton Cultural Center at Masonic Temple until his death in May 2011. State Rep. Marty Flynn, D-113, Scranton, is Patrick Flynn’s first cousin.